This Marine Veteran Has Adventured 24,000+ Miles to Support Veterans’ Mental Health
When he was 19, Gabe Vasquez joined the Marines. A first generation Mexican-American from Austin, Texas, Gabe is grateful to have started his career in the military, where he formed strong bonds with his fellow service members. However, he also left with PTSD and residual injuries from his time overseas, and has close friends from his military time who have suffered from life-altering injuries.
With little knowledge of the trail beforehand, Gabe set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) after returning from his deployments, as part of an effort to raise money for causes supporting veterans’ physical and mental health. He saw it as a way to honor his fellow veteran friends, known and unknown, facing injuries and mental health challenges from their service time.
Interview With Gabe Vasquez on Supporting Veterans Through Outdoor Fundraisers With Semper Fi Fund
We caught up with Gabe to hear more about his fundraising efforts, the incredible outdoor feats he has accomplished along the way, and how we can all help support veterans’ mental health.
Gossamer Gear: Can you tell us a little about the Semper Fi Fund and why it’s an important nonprofit to you?
Gabe: Semper Fi & America’s Fund (SFF) cares for our nation’s critically wounded, ill, and injured service members, veterans, and military families. Supporting all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, it provides one-on-one case management, connection, and lifetime support.
Since 2014, I’ve hiked, kayaked, and cycled over 24,000 miles to help raise funds for SFF. It is so important to me because it has been assisting veterans in so many different ways since 2003, including several of my personal friends. We need organizations like SFF around to continue to help veterans and save as many lives as possible. SFF creates spaces where veterans can feel safe and heal. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide each day, and SFF and the people who work for the organization are going to help lower that number.
How have you been raising money for this effort and what has that experience been like so far?
In 2014, I decided to join my friend and kayak the Mississippi River from source to sea. We managed to raise over $18,000. Afterwards, I continued to raise funds because I just want to help my friends. This whole experience has been life changing. Now, I'm the first known Mexican-American to complete the Triple Crown. Not only was I raising funds, but I also found the peace I’ve been looking for since getting out of the Marines. It saved my life, and I began to tell everyone what the outdoors have done for me.
For someone who has no background in the outdoors or no knowledge on raising funds for a charity, I'm doing OK. I have an account with a donation link that goes directly to SFF. They get 100% of the donations. I’ve used social media to help spread my message and help raise funds. Since I’ve traveled so many miles, I’ve met so many people and gotten a lot of help along the way with this. I have so much planned and could use all the help I can get.
What are your goals for the coming year?
My goal for this coming year is to continue my “7 Summits” project. I completed my first summit this summer: Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. I hope to knock out two more summits now: Mount Aconcagua in South America, and Mount Denali for North America.
I will also be hiking multiple sections of the PCT and, most likely, the Pacific Northwest Trail.
Glen told us you hiked the PCT but had never heard of the trail beforehand. What was that like and what motivated you to finish it?
The PCT was the first time I’ve ever hiked in my life. The closest I could get to it was patrolling in Afghanistan with 100 pounds of gear on. I didn’t know what the PCT was a couple of months before hiking it. Honestly, when I learned about it, I thought it was a dumb idea, but I decided to do it anyway. This is how much I knew about the hiking world. I went to REI and told the guy working, “Have you heard of the PCT? Because I’ve decided to hike it and I have no clue what I’m doing.” He kind of laughed when I asked if he's heard of the PCT.
The motivation behind it was that I was raising funds for SFF. I wanted to continue to help my friends. Then, while hiking the PCT, two Marines from my unit committed suicide, within two weeks, so I knew I couldn’t stop. The fact that 22 veterans commit suicide each day kept me moving. I used the trail to help me heal form my experiences in the Marines, and I used those experiences to help me finish the PCT
How has Gossamer Gear been a part of your journey over the past year?
Gossamer Gear has helped me more than they know. This year, Gossamer Gear donated multiple gear items I needed to reach my goals. The gear items were The Two for my tent, LT5 trekking poles, and the Gold Dome Umbrella. The lightweight gear made my walk from England to Rome, the Tour Du Mont Blanc, and Walker’s Haute Route in Europe a lot easier. Thank you so much, Gossamer Gear.
What are some ways people can support your initiative and also Veterans’ mental health and well-being in general?
You can make a donation on my fundraising page. 100% will go to the Semper Fi Fund. They received an A+ from CharityWatch, one of only three veteran nonprofits to receive their highest rating. They are doing amazing things. They’ve helped many of my friends over the years.
I believe that we also have to be open to talk about suicide and normalize it. We need to create an environment where veterans feel comfortable talking about. It takes time, but it is something we can overcome to live a normal, happy life.
Support Veterans’ Mental Health Through Outdoor Adventure and the Semper Fi Fund
We hope you’re as inspired as we are by Gabe’s commitment to helping his fellow veterans live the best lives they can after their service and preventing veteran suicide through greater awareness, support, and connection to the outdoors.
If you’d like to follow along with Gabe’s efforts, you can find him on Instagram at @forinjuredveterans and on Facebook. Most importantly, you can donate to his cause on his donation site or directly on the Semper Fi Fund site.
Looking for more outdoor inspiration? Check out some of our other articles on the Light Feet blog:
- Veteran and Thru-Hiker Matthew Fox Completes the Triple Crown
- Warrior Expeditions Uses Outdoor Adventure to Help Veterans “Walk off the War”
- 6 Outdoor Organizations to Support for Mental Health Awareness Month
- How "Hiking My Feelings" Promotes Nature and Healing
- Post-Trail Depression: You're Not Alone and There’s Help