2017-07-13 / Front Page

PADDLING WITH A PURPOSE

Kayaking journey raising money to help suicidal vets
BY TIM RIEL


U.S. Navy veteran Bill Mullin at his Fort Getty tent site. The 66-year-old Massachusetts native is kayaking to Key West to benefit suicidal veterans. 
PHOTO BY TIM RIEL U.S. Navy veteran Bill Mullin at his Fort Getty tent site. The 66-year-old Massachusetts native is kayaking to Key West to benefit suicidal veterans. PHOTO BY TIM RIEL Joe Mullin launched his kayak Saturday morning from the Fort Getty boat ramp, leaving town as quietly as he arrived. Paddling through the West Passage, he glided toward the horizon on a one-man mission that will endure through Christmas.

Mullin, 66, departed in May from Quoddy Head, a park in Maine that is the easternmost point of the United States. A Massachusetts native who served in the U.S. Navy from 1970-74, Mullin is kayaking to Key West for Mission 22, a charity that finances holistic treatment for suicidal veterans.

Although the first 400 miles resulted in hypothermia for him and cracked fiberglass for his kayak, Mullin has no qualms about the next 1,600 miles of Atlantic that lie ahead.

“I’m hell-bent on success,” he said.

Mullin, a father of four, was an electrical engineer for 30 years before his company decided on a younger workforce. With retirement looming, Mullin worked construction while counting the days until he could check off his bucket list. His top ambition was kayaking the East Coast.

While working at Lowe’s, he started a GoFundMe account to finance lodging and equipment for his expedition. The fundraiser, however, didn’t do well. That’s when a friend told Mullin to partner with a charity.

As a disabled sailor with post-traumatic stress disorder, Mullin immediately began scouring veteran organizations through an online watchdog that evaluates the veracity of charities. Mission 22, Mullin said, was given a top rating. The 22 references the number of Americans who commit suicide daily because of brain disorders stemming from military service.

“There is no skimming,” Mullin said. “100 percent goes to the vets.”

What started as a retirement ambition quickly became a mission. “I didn’t care about GoFundMe anymore,” he said. “This has to happen. This has to get done.”

Mullin began training, kayaking 40 miles a day in Buzzard’s Bay for two years. He ultimately retired from Lowe’s in April — 72 hours later, he departed Maine.

His journey, however, started inauspiciously. On the first day, Mullin paddled into Bailey’s Mistake, a cove just south of Quoddy Point, and a wave broadsided him. About a mile off shore, Mullin’s kayak overturned.

“I guess I made the same mistake Bailey had,” he quipped.

He radioed the Coast Guard and began swimming toward shore in 40-degree water. Dressed in a dry suit that was designed to control his body temperature for 45 minutes, rescue worked arrived an hour after he capsized. He tipped because he was over-packed.

“I started to get the chills at 50 minutes,” he said. “When they finally pulled me aboard, I was shaking uncontrollably.”

Mullin’s body temp was 94 degrees, more than 4 degrees below the ideal temperature. “I wasn’t that far off,” he joked.

The Coast Guard said Mullin only survived because he was so well prepared. Mullin credits his experience. Along with his Navy background and kayaking experience, he is a certified diver and a 20-year member of an underwater recovery team.

“I’m familiar with the ocean,” he said. “I’m comfortable out there.”

After being hospitalized for five hours, Mullin took his stuff, laid it across his hotel room, and packed only the necessities, including his GPS, compass, tent and 35 days worth of freeze-dried food. Just days after nearly dying two hours from the starting line, Mullin headed back out to sea on his mission.

Not only is Mullin hell bent on raising money for veterans, but this trip also is helping him deal with his own PTSD. “I have depression,” he said. “But every time I get into the kayak and onto the water, I’m at peace. It’s tranquility.”

Mullin hopes his mission can bring that peace and tranquility to his fellow vets. But the most important part, he said, are donations. Contributions can be made by searching “ACSKE2017,” which stands for Atlantic Coast Sea Kayak Expedition 2017.

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