Locals help veterans find power through counseling, sports and service

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Story and photos by Andrea Papagianis

Mark Carlisle stands at the water’s edge sending out encouraging words and pointers on turn techniques and safety to first-time stand-up paddleboarders. The longtime Dana Point resident does this for a living.

As a personal trainer, SUP instructor, life-long surfer and employee of Hobie, one could say Carlisle’s life revolves around the water. It is where he’s made his career. Saturday, it was where he shared his story with some of the nation’s veterans, and their families, who were introduced to the sport for the first time.

Tragedy struck when Carlisle was 26. His mother was diagnosed with stage-four, invasive breast cancer just six months after Mark’s father took his life. She would die two years later. When the reality caught up with him, Carlisle was riddled with anxiety, fear and depression. He’s not trying to put himself in the combat boots of veterans, but said he can relate to traumatic experiences on a smaller scale.

“As bad as things are that you’ve been through in life, somehow you must put the gears in motion and keep moving forward.”–Mark Carlisle

“As bad as things are that you’ve been through in life, somehow you must put the gears in motion and keep moving forward,” Carlisle said. “It doesn’t make it go away, but if you stay there you freeze and never move again.”

Dana Point resident Mark Carlisle gives first-time stand-up paddleboarders tips Saturday at Baby Beach. Photo: Andrea Papagianis
Dana Point resident Mark Carlisle gives first-time stand-up paddleboarders tips Saturday at Baby Beach. Photo: Andrea Papagianis

It’s a message Carlisle hoped to share with veterans and active duty members of the military who took part in a stand-up paddleboard clinic at Baby Beach this weekend. The day was sponsored by Strength in Support, a nonprofit that came together after area mental healthcare providers saw a large need among their patients for affordable services, not just for servicemen and women but their families as well.

Three of the organization’s six board members work in mental health. As phone calls regarding counseling for military personnel and their families grew, a cost issue became apparent. The more than $100 sessions with private practitioners didn’t make sense, so they started offering pro bono sessions.

Strength in Support co-founder Jill Boultinghouse, a family therapist, recalled board president and founder Evan Fewsmith saying “enough” in 2012. There would be no more pulling military members into their private practices, rather they needed to help on a larger scale, and so the nonprofit was born.

“We came to an understanding that there are different levels of emotional and mental health needs and different ways to address them,” Boultinghouse said. “We believe in the counseling room … but we also believe in therapies outside of it.”

The organization now provides free and low-cost counseling services to all current and veteran military personnel seeking help. Family members, also, are encouraged to seek aid from the organization.

“Strength in Support really believes that one veteran is equal to another veteran,” Boultinghouse said. “It does not matter your years of service, it does not matter if you saw combat or not, you did serve this country. On top of that we are passionate about the fact that whole families served.”

“It does not matter your years of service, it does not matter if you saw combat or not, you did serve this country.”–Jill Boultinghouse

Rickey Cole, a retired sergeant first class, who served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, said deployments are often worse for family members who are shrouded in misinformation and fear. With limited communications between service members and their families, Cole said worrying is the worst part.

The Caldwell family, of San Diego, is all smiles after their first experience stand-up paddleboarding. Photo: Andrea Papagianis
The Caldwell family, of San Diego, is all smiles after their first experience stand-up paddleboarding. Photo: Andrea Papagianis

“You have to have a good support chain when you deploy … it is not just you who is deploying, but your family is back there wondering if you are alive or if something bad has happened,” Cole said.

Saturday, Strength in Support aimed to introduce service members and their families to a new experience, one they could all share in, one that was now accessible. With Carlisle’s and volunteer Josh Golden’s guidance, Marine Charlz Caldwell, his wife and three children, ages 12, 7 and 4, took to the water.

For Caldwell, a medical coordinator with the Marine Corps’ Wounded Warrior Battalion, and his family it was their time on a SUP board. Wife Lefectra was hesitant at first, but after seeing daughters Ariyana and Breanna off with ease, she jumped on board to join her family at sea.

Ensuring active-duty Marines have the medical and healthcare services they need, Caldwell said he understands the good therapeutic activities can do.

“The spiritual side along with the health and wellness side of recovery is something our Marines need,” Cladwell said.

To find out more about Strength in Support, visit www.strengthinsupport.org.

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comments (1)

  • Charlene Bailey Crowe Reply

    Kudos to Mark Carlisle and to all the courageous people in Dana Point who make a difference in so many others’ lives. This city is full of them; I applaud you all. I’ve lived all over Orange County; Huntington Beach, Lake Forest, San Clemente and found Dana Point 22 yeas ago….and I will never leave.

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