It’s wildly uncommon that you get on a stair stepper not thinking about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and get off having put together a serious plan to conquer the tallest mountain in Africa.
But that’s Nate Boyer for you.
He’d been contacted by St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long a day prior, which happened the be a day after Boyer had been cut by the Seattle Seahawks, wondering if he’d like to act as an ambassador for the Seahawks in “Waterboys,” the signature program of The Chris Long Foundation.
“Basically ‘Waterboys’ is a clean water project,” Boyer, a former active-duty Green Beret and former Longhorns long snapper, told HornsDigest. “He’s trying to get NFL players and fan bases of those teams to raise money within the locker room and the fans to provide a clean water well from each team.”
Long was hoping that Boyer could do something involving veterans.
“The next day I was on the stair climber flipping through the options and one of them was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro,” Boyer said. “He’s raising money for these water wells in Tanzania and Kilimanjaro happens to be in Tanzania. So I called him back and said, ‘Hey I’m going to take a wounded vet to climb Kilimanjaro with me.’”
Through a project called “Conquering Kili,” Boyer hopes to raise money toward building water wells for East African communities while also hoping to increase awareness about the challenges veterans face when returning home from active duty. The climb will take place in February and is expected to take five to six days.
The friend he’ll be climbing with is Blake Watson, a combat Marine veteran, and single-leg amputee.
“He took a knee on an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] on his first deployment and blew his entire [left] leg off,” Boyer said. “He struggled for a few years with a bunch of stuff, depression, and pill addiction.”
Boyer sees this climb as a beneficial opportunity for multiple reasons.
“This is an example and a way for vets to continue to serve the world,” he said. “There are a lot of great programs out there that try to help veterans and give veterans things, experiences. But it’s not lasting and if they don’t have a purpose or something they are fighting for that’s when they get lost. That’s when they get suicidal to be honest. There are 22 veteran suicides a day.
“Yes we’ve seen some bad stuff and had some tough things happen to us in some difficult situations. And a lot of them are in more physical pain than I’ll ever understand. But I think the heart of that all is not having a purpose and thinking you’ll never do anything as important as what you did while you were deployed. So they need challenges like this.”
“Conquering Kili” aims to raise $100,000 but Boyer wants to take it farther than that. In fact, he’s already surpassed that mark.
“We are going to try to raise $1 million for thee people and for these wells,” Boyer said. “I think it’s going to happen. We’ve already raised over $100,000. We had an event over at Microsoft last Tuesday and raised over $100,000 in one night.”
Boyer will next be hosting an event at HandleBar, in downtown Austin, beginning at 7 p.m. on Friday.
“I’ll be there sharing what’s going on with everything,” Boyer said. “It’ll be real mellow, no sales pitch. Whatever you want to donate, donate. A portion of all bar sales will go to “Waterboys” so everybody wins.”
Boyer and Watson are both currently training to conquer Kili.
“I’m in Los Angeles,” Boyer said. “I just stay in shape in general. There are a few smaller mountains around this area that I’ll be climbing in the next couple of months. I’m always training man. I’ve never taken a day off.”
Watson, meanwhile, trains at the Adaptive Training Foundation in Dallas, a non-profit organization “dedicated to restoring hope through movement to those wit physical impairments.”
“They train their ass off there,” Boyer said. “It’s a pretty great place.”
To donate to the Conquering Kili project, please visit www.waterboys.org/kili.
Waterboys got its start during a 2013 trip by Long to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Long was struck by the beauty of Tanzania and the vibrancy of its people, but also witnessed great suffering due to a lack of clean water. While in Tanzania, Long met Doug Pitt, Goodwill Ambassador for Tanzania, and John Bongiorno, President of the non- profit WorldServe International and was further educated on the needs and available solutions to the clean water crisis.
Returning home, Long began to envision a pathway to champion the need for clean water in East Africa and engage other NFL players in the cause. In 2015, Long created the Waterboys Initiative, selecting WorldServe International as its benefiting charity. Waterboys will work with WorldServe International to build wells to provide life-giving water and all that comes from it – the opportunity for education, good health, and economic stability. There are currently 22 “waterboys,” including Long, on 21 teams that are committed to the effort.