Boating Adventures | "Coming Ashore in Rockport" | Article by Vicki Totten, 8 Photos

  Josh Collins after coming ashore near Shell Ridge in Rockport
This week's boating adventure is about a chance encounter made while my husband Stan and I were walking along Shell Ridge. With winds in excess of 25 mph, our plans to haul our boat out to have it painted were derailed. So, given the conditions, we were surprised to see someone on a paddle board exiting the water. That someone was Josh Collins.

Veteran Josh Collins came ashore in Rockport this week while paddling his stand up paddle board from Corpus Christi, Texas to the Statue of Liberty in New York, New York - which is approximately a 3,500 mile journey. He decided to wait out the high winds here before continuing on the journey that he estimates should take about four months. It is a journey that has never been done before on a stand up paddle board. One might wonder what would cause someone to undertake such a grueling trip.

Operation Phoenix is the name of his paddle board.
"I wanted to do something epic that hadn't been done, raise awareness, and show there is life after the military and combat and post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries" he said. In addition to raising awareness about the help that veterans returning from combat need in order to deal with these issues,  he also hopes to raise money for the foundation he credits with helping save his life

Seven documented traumatic brain injuries and traumatic stress disorder are only some of the injuries Josh sustained during his multiple rotations to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia.  As a Special Operations combat Veteran he has suffered a major concussion, fractured nose, ribs, and cervical spine compression.  The combination of his illnesses and the pain he was experiencing caused him to begin using a deadly combination of prescribed medications and alcohol.  According to Josh's description on his website, this coping strategy almost tore his family and marriage apart.  It was his wife Tonia who initially purchased the stand up paddle board for him, which was when he began to finally find some relief from his debilitating traumatic brain injuries. He describes it as his sanctuary.  Now, his wife Tonia accompanies him on his paddle boarding trek by following on land in an RV accompanied by their two dogs. 

Josh and his wife Tonia, who follows on shore in their RV

"I was in the Tampa VA Hospital for 3 months and they had recreation therapy with paddle boards.   I have had a number of traumatic brain injuries, so lots of balance issues, like vestibular ear damage, eye surgeries, nerve damage, and cervical spine compression," Josh said. "When I got on a paddle board, the horizon stood still for the first time and I just found balance and I have been doing it ever since." As a result, he was also finally able to get off all of his medications. 

So, in addition to wanting to raise awareness and resources for others, he also hopes to raise awareness that there are other types of functional medicines besides prescription medications that can help people in recovery.  According to information on his website, more than twenty two veterans a day are taking their lives, which is more than ten times the number of casualties overseas.

Also on the website, Josh is quoted as saying "I'm looking forward to my time on the water to try and find myself.  To completely quiet everything that is going on in the world and to get rid of all the distractions and kind of search the brain - search my mind - and to try and find those places I may have lost along the way.  Success means giving everything I have.  Just the effort without stopping - never quitting - will raise awareness for traumatic brain injury and for other veterans."

What we know is that trauma impacts people in many different ways.  Some people may use it as an excuse to behave badly.  Others might crumble and are never able to get themselves back up.  And then there are those people like Josh Collins who, even though he may have had his share of falling, is now using his traumatic experiences to try and make a positive difference for others.  The tattoo he has on his arm says it all.  The tattoo says "never quit."

The special board made just for him

Training for his four month trip

The route Josh will be taking

For more information about his journey, to follow along on his trip, or to donate, go to:

Vicki and husband, ceramic artist Stan Irvin, are both retired professors who have discovered the joys of Rockport and living part-time on their 33' sailboat, while exploring new sailing destinations and adventures.

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