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Rowing toward a better life for veterans

After serving his country, Marine veteran Michael Rawlings found new ways to serve others and make a difference in the lives of his fellow veterans.

Michael became a life member of DAV in 1991, and would ultimately become an active member of the state’s Brainerd Chapter of DAV. He would go on to serve as adjutant and then senior vice commander in 2015.

In addition to his efforts to help fellow veterans through his involvement with his DAV chapter, Michael found a way to use his love for particular physical activities to benefit disabled veterans.

Dating back to his college days, Michael has been an avid swimmer and rower. After his service, the activities proved helpful as he dealt with a degenerative disease he’s battled since his service.

“I had always done lap swimming, which progressed into masters swimming, competing against my own age group,” says Michael. “I started swimming competitively for physical therapy.”

Along the way, Michael “got hooked” on indoor rowing. He purchased an ergometer, or rowing machine, from Concept2, a manufacturer out of Vermont, and began rowing daily.

“In 2016, I’m at the VA waiting for an EKG and there’s a flyer about the 2016 Summer VA Games in St. Cloud,” says Michael. “One event was the 1000 meter row. I needed a little incentive to row for a purpose, so I said, ‘I’ll sign up, go home and train. I know what I’m up to.’”

And he decided to get others involved, like Marine veteran Don Altrichter, a wheelchair amputee.

“He was a recluse until the team,” says Michael. “He was a patient out of the VA, came out of his room three times a day to row, he never missed a day. The recreation therapist said it was the best thing that could happen to him.”

Don placed first in the individual board competition in the 2017 Fall Challenge.

Michael decided to add a new type of rowing to his physical therapy, Oar Boarding allows him to take his indoor rowing talents outside on the cool, clear Minnesota waters.

Whereas rowing involves propelling a boat in the water, and sometimes with other people, Oar Boards are designed for low impact, single individual rowing, done from a paddleboard which is designed with a rowing device fixed on the top of the board.

Michael describes the Oar Board as “like going for a long walk.”

“I started researching adaptive rowing alternatives and clicked on Oar Boarding and it said that it is a sport you can embrace,” says Michael. “I don’t race. I go out for rows — it takes about two and a half hours. It’s nice and easy, I look at the birds, and the water is crystal clear, like a mirror.”

This year, Michael participated in DAV’s Victory for Veterans fundraiser, designed to help disabled veterans by raising money in a range of physical activity. Michael chose Oar Boarding as his sport of choice. He established his page on called “Oarboarding for Veterans”. His goal was to row 100 miles, which he accomplished. He raised more than $3300 for Victories for Veterans.

“The challenge came up and I had just finished with the indoor season,” says Michael. “I couldn’t wait.”

He put in long, ten-mile rows.

For the DAV challenge, Michael and his team, “Victories for Veterans,” showed up with new DAV shirts — an effort to “psyche out the competition,” says Michael.

“My DAV chapter has been very supportive,” says Michael. “They’ve contributed heavily to my cause. They’re so generous. I was lucky to have support. I had support from a Marine support group, my DAV group, and my family. When I put the word out, that money came in.”

Some years ago, a fellow veteran said to Michael, “Michael, if you do anything, help other veterans. You think you’ve got it bad until you talk to the vet next to you.”

“Doing it for somebody else is so much more rewarding,” says Michael. “I’m giving back and that’s what DAV does — it’s just a warm feeling. I was taken by how generous they are.”

As of October 15, Michael says the St. Cloud VA crew placed first in the medical facility category in the Concept2 Fall Challenge.

“With the help of Don, we were the top two member team out of 989 competitors, and Don placed first in the adaptive category! Don has since become a Lifetime Member of DAV Chapter 22!” says Michael.


Take the "20 for 20 Challenge" - Join DAV to raise awareness of the 20 veterans a day that die by suicide by pledging to run, walk, or ride 20 miles or donate $20 to create more victorious outcomes.

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