Wisconsin Hero Outdoors: Connecting Vets & First Responders to the Outdoors

wisconsin outdoor hero kayaker

Born in 2016, the folks who began Wisconsin Hero Outdoors (WHO) recognized two things:

  • Veterans and first responders—as well as their families—have both physical and mental challenges from the stress of service.
  • The outdoors and outdoor activities are a natural balm that helps with healing, relaxing and otherwise helping them face these challenges.

WHO’s mission is:

“To help connect Veterans, First Responders and their families to outdoor activities in Wisconsin while partnering with organizations that have a similar mission. Our goal continues to be assisting effective programs and encouraging new opportunities within our organization.”

This year they developed a partnership with Lakewood WWV Camp in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. This beautiful property has a private lake, golf course and sports activities available to provide a retreat location for these families.

There and in other locations, WHO is dedicated to using proven alternative therapies like kayak fishing, ice fishing, horses, archery, hunting, biking and golf. They work with the Veterans Administration, doctors, therapists, and a host of related non-profits to serve these heroes.

One supporter of WHO, a Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force, wrote this:

“While discussing complementary and alternative therapies with a group of veterans that I meet with regularly, a common theme that I found with all of them was a love and passion for the great outdoors. They were telling me whether it was fishing, hiking, kayaking or simply sitting in the outdoors, it all made them feel more at ease with their PTSD…

“The problem was that only one of those veterans had found a veteran group to participate in that shared their interest for the outdoors.” (source)

Now that he knows about WHO, he’s able to refer the veterans he knows to their events and help them on their way to healing.

helping a kayaker get set

Co-founder, Eric Falkner, is himself a veteran and firefighter. Career-ending injuries forced him to leave service. He shares:

“I was introduced to (co-founder) Jason Bartol while going through treatment at the Milwaukee VA, and after going kayak fishing with Jason and other veterans and first responders, I was hooked. The camaraderie and outdoor activities did nothing short of save my life.” (source)

“There is no quick fix when it comes to mental or physical health. Wisconsin Hero Outdoors provides a setting for our Heroes and family members to relax and just ‘be’ without any expectations.

“Being outdoors gave me the chance to quiet my mind and take stock of what I’m thankful for. I made the choice to continue to focus on those things. Life isn’t perfect, but I’ve found a level of peace that I didn’t think would exist for me every again. I hope WHO provides a path for others to find their way home.”

Bending Branches’ Ambassador and kayak angler, Tyler Thiede, is also heavily involved with WHO. Tyler is a volunteer EMT in Spring Valley, Wisconsin and owns a kayak/kayak fishing business called Small Craft Outfitters.

Tyler said:

“I met Eric, Jason, and team back in 2017 when they had a local event for veterans and first responders near me in Menomonie, Wisconsin. I volunteered my fleet of kayaks and Bending Branches paddles along with my guide services (I am a kayak fishing guide in Wisconsin) for the event.

“Kayak fishing is a passion of mine and helps me with my mental health issues. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to talk to these heroes, hear their stories, hear how kayak fishing and the outdoors helps them, and see the smiles and sense of peace the sport brings them.

“I am proud to help such a great organization and proud to be given the opportunity to represent Bending Branches, who supports amazing organizations like this.”

We love what WHO is doing for our country’s service men and women and their families, whether they serve overseas or here in the US.

kayaker at sunset

To learn more about Wisconsin Hero Outdoors or to get involved, visit their website or Facebook page.

(All photos courtesy of Wisconsin Hero Outdoors)

What paddle questions do you have? Contact our friendly Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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