Former Texas Longhorns' and Seattle Seahawks' long snapper Nate Boyer has never been one to back down from a challenge.
Whether it was volunteering his time to help those in need in Darfur, enlisting in the Army and becoming a Green Beret - ultimately being awarded a Bronze Star for his efforts with the Special Forces unit - or walking on to the University of Texas football team at age 30, giving up on his goals is not an option for Boyer.
His next project will be an uphill battle. Literally.
Boyer will climb Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest peak on the African continent – for a good cause.
Through a project called Conquering Kili, Boyer aims to raise funds to build clean water wells in Tanzania. He is also using the project to increase awareness about the struggles veterans face after returning from combat.
“The day after I was released from the Seahawks, (St. Louis Rams DE) Chris Long reached out to me and asked if I had heard about the Waterboys," Boyer said.
"He told me about the project so I looked up on the website to learn about what they do. He’s trying to get all 32 NFL teams involved - and for each team in the locker room and fan base to raise enough money for a water well.”
Boyer browsed through the various programs offered by Waterboys while working out on a stair-climber. That’s when he spotted Mount Kilimanjaro.
“I thought about how I could involve vets in this project," Boyer said. "I thought the best thing would be to do it with someone who it would be an extreme challenge for and would really inspire people.”
His immediate choice was Blake Watson, a marine veteran whose leg was blown off after kneeling on an improvised explosion device (IED) during his first deployment to Afghanistan.
“I asked him if he wanted to climb Kilimanjaro with me, and before I could even finish my sentence, he said he was all on board,” Boyer said. “He’s super excited about it.”
The Bronze Star recipient met Watson during a visit to the Adaptive Training Foundation – a non-profit Dallas training facility specializing in restoring hope through movement to those with physical impairments.
“I didn’t even meet Blake until earlier this year," Boyer said. "I went out to the Adaptive Training Foundation in the spring with another organization I work with called 22 Kill. I got to meet him and workout with him. It was inspiring to see him.”
Like many combat vets, Watson was struggling to adjust to life back in the states. He spent three years battling through tough situations following the loss of his leg. But his training at ATF changed his life.
“He didn’t have that sense of purpose anymore. He felt like, 'What’s the point?'” Boyer said of Watson. “He started training a year ago in Dallas at the Adaptive Training Foundation. It changed his life. It helped him get back in shape and healthy. He felt alive for the first time in four years.”
The journey to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is in the beginning phases. Boyer was initially set to raise enough money to build two clean water wells in Tanzania, which costs approximately $45,000 each. However, he has raised the bar to provide a larger challenge.
“We’re going to raise enough money for at least two wells to be put into the ground, but I’m already thinking much bigger than that,” Boyer said. “I think we are going to raise $1 million, enough to put 22 wells in the ground in honor of the 22 veterans who are losing their battle with suicide every day.”
Boyer and Watson are training hard for this mission, which is set to take place in late February 2016. While a 19,336-foot climb seems like a daunting task to many individuals, it doesn’t faze Boyer.
“I’m more nervous about raising the money than I am about the climb," he said. "I’m more nervous about if I am going to be able to inspire people enough to really do something and make a difference to help change things.”
Although he has never been to Tanzania, Boyer has witnessed African citizens' daily struggles for survival during his time spent in Darfur. His experience has encouraged him to do whatever possible to help those in need.
Combining that goal with the mission to bring awareness to the struggles combat veterans face makes this project extremely important to the Green Beret.
“A lot of guys don’t have that sense of purpose and don’t have anything to fight for anymore like we did when we were overseas," Boyer said. "We don’t have that challenge and that sense of service to others, especially those in the third world.
“This is a way for us to do that. That’s why this project is so important to me. And that’s why I think this has to happen.
“We need to help those people that don’t have what we have here in America, like clean water and the basics for survival. But at the same time, continue to empower vets to really make a difference.”
Residents of Austin will have the opportunity to meet Boyer and support his upcoming project this Friday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. CT at Handlebar. A portion of everything purchased will be donated to Conquering Kili.
For more information about this project or to donate directly to Conquering Kili, visit Waterboys.org/kili.