KEY WEST -- At 24, Bo Reichenbach felt like Superman. He was on top of the world, a Navy SEAL in the best shape of his life. Then, at the end of a patrol in Afghanistan on July 17, 2012, he stepped on a wood pressure plate.
In an instant, his left leg was gone, his right leg was filled with metal fragments, his right arm was too damaged even to secure a tourniquet and his life as he knew it was blown away by the homemade bomb.
The past year has been hell. He has endured more than 20 medical procedures that included amputation of his right leg, But each time he began to feel sorry for himself, Reichenbach said, he stopped before things would go downhill real fast. “It’s all mental toughness,” he said.
And, he added, “I can’t quit on myself because that would be a poor example for my 5-year-old son, Landon. He’s the big reason I have to live. And he thinks this is the coolest thing ever. That I’ve got Iron Man legs.”
Landon thinks his dad’s next endeavor is pretty cool, too. Reichenbach is riding for Team Spartan in the first Never Quit Challenge, a journey on Jet Skis to honor the fallen and to raise awareness and funds for three grassroots organizations that help veterans and their families: Phoenix Patriot Foundation, Boot Campaign and The Station Foundation.
The six-team challenge, which began before sunrise Friday morning in Key West, will travel 1,600 miles up the eastern seaboard and end on Sept. 11 in New York, with the city’s fire department set to welcome them at the finish line. The teams, with two to four members, average 266 miles per day. About the only change Reichenbach made to his Jet Ski was “reupholstering his seat with sticky stuff” so he’ll not go flying out of his seat so much over the waves.
Members of the Key West Police Department escorted the teams to the Garrison Bight Marina for the launch. After the short 164-mile first leg, the teams arrived at the Rickenbacker Marina on Virginia Key at 6 p.m. with Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and Gloria Estefan greeting them.
The challenge was the brainchild of Shawn Alladio, who founded a company called K38 Water Safety that teaches the military and others how to safely operate personal water craft and how to perform rescues. At the opening party Thursday night, Alladio told the group of 17 riders, support crew and family: “Especially with the war efforts we’ve engaged in the last decade and since the terrorist attacks of 9-11 in our country … we do have the responsibility, I believe, as patriots and as Americans, to take care of our own.”
About 2.5 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan the past 12 years, with 6,756 deaths. About 50,000 have returned home with physical injuries, and many more who’ve served have mental health problems. Most everyone will have some difficulty re-entering civilian life.
With budget cuts in federal aid for veterans, it’s become even more important for nonprofits to help fill the void.
“There are not enough foundations out there,” said Darrin Isham, active duty special forces in the Navy and owner of Trident Outdoor Adventures, which is helping to run the challenge. “We need everyone’s help to get involved. Having been on the battlefield five times myself, [I know] guys get wounded and need help. A lot of people don’t realize, in my opinion, that this is the longest sustained warfare we’ve had in our nation’s history.”