Will Schmidt crosses Catalina Channel to raise funds, awareness for Wounded Warriors
By Steve Breazeale
Will Schmidt, 32, of Laguna Niguel knows what it’s like to feel empty. For most of his adult life the dedicated stand-up paddler and dental assistant battled with depression and anxiety to the point where, sometime in early 2012, he considered taking his own life.
As he was standing in his bedroom one day, looking for ways to “make it all end,” he got a phone call from his mother. Schmidt believes that her motherly instincts were acting up, telling her to check in on her son. They got to talking and she suggested Schmidt go out and paddle around the water to clear his head. She knew paddling had always cheered Schmidt up in the past.
“I went out on the water and vowed to myself that I’d turn this around,” Schmidt said. “I found vindication on the water. I decided to turn it around or I wouldn’t make it.”
As a former Marine who served for five years, Schmidt knows first-hand what soldiers returning from the theater of war go through when they transition back home. Although Schmidt does not associate his own health issues with his time served in the military, he wanted to do something to help his fellow soldiers who suffer from depression and anxiety. Stand-up paddling came immediately to his mind.
That’s why, on April 6, after months of training and pushing himself to travel greater distances, Schmidt traversed roughly 45 miles of open water and crossed the Catalina Channel and into Dana Point Harbor unassisted.
Schmidt raised funds, and is still raising them, to sponsor his journey and to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project. He has raised over $2,000 to date.
Schmidt embarked on his 10-hour, 15-minute journey from Avalon, Catalina Island, to Baby Beach in Dana Point Harbor, having never traveled more than 25 miles on his board before.
The trip was not without its fair share of hiccups.
Due to wind, swells and technical difficulties, Schmidt was forced to travel 45.2 miles instead of the estimated 39.8.
About five miles in, his escort boat’s GPS suddenly stopped working, a major problem considering there was dense fog surrounding the group. Luckily, a crew member had a magnetic compass, which they used to steer them on the right course.
At the 28-mile mark, the boat left Schmidt alone in the water so they could jump ahead and get their bearings. Schmidt paddled on by himself for a solid hour before they returned.
“It was one of those moments with no sound in the air, no hum you normally hear of cars. I said I’ve never felt so alive…at that moment it was survival,” Schmidt said. “At no point in my life had I ever had a moment where I felt so aware. That pumped me up.”
Now that he’s had a taste of what it takes to cross such great distances alone, Schmidt is planning on pushing himself even further in the future with an eye set on traveling unassisted from San Clemente Island to San Diego. He also plans on assembling a nonprofit that would take wounded warriors out on the water.
To learn more about Schmidt’s cause, visit gogetfunding.com/project/stand-up-paddle-against-depression-a-personal-journey.