Our Story: Who We Are
Team FSF Staff:
It all started as a distant dream in 2012. I had returned from my last combat tour with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion 9th Marines in February of 2011, and soon found myself disenchanted with civilian life. I had been an Infantry Machinegun Team Leader, and I had let it define me as a person. I cared deeply for the men in my charge, and the brotherhood we felt as a unit was unbreakable. That pride left me empty when I took those camis off for the last time. I was only 22 but my soul felt the weight of a thousand lifetimes. 15 of my fellow Marines and Navy Corpsman had paid the ultimate sacrifice while in Marjah & Sangin, Afghanistan in 2010 & early 2011 during the middle and end of Operation Moshtarak. My heart carried the weight of that sacrifice while I slowly tried to drown out the pain with alcohol and various medications prescribed by the VA.
“What do I do now?” I would frequently wonder to myself. “How will I ever find a purpose, a reason to keep going after all that?” The answers were increasingly vague and distant. Nothing seemed to help or give me the motivation to leave my apartment in suburban Alabama.
I drifted from job to job, yearning for that sense of purpose I once had. Then one melancholy day, after a serious talk with my father, R.W. Long, we decided to take a road trip to Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Utah in the hopes of reminding me that the world was much bigger than my immediate problems. And then the strangest thing happened...
While attempting to summit Pike’s Peak after only being instate for 24hrs, (yeah, we were those guys), I was forced to sit down in a clearing shortly after finishing the Barr Trail that looked up at the summit of Pike’s Peak. I was gasping for air and battling altitude sickness, but I had never felt more at peace. I was strangely aware, and even accepting of my failure to summit the mountain that day. Through all of life’s struggles, I had never encountered anything that had physically forced me to sit, be still and observe. I stared at the mountain for what seemed like hours, silently deciding, triumphantly, that I would forge a life post-war.
As I sat there looking at this imaginary line that I couldn’t seem to cross, the spot where my legs would carry me no further that day, I joyfully, and deliriously, decided that it would signal my own demarcation line. The line that I would figuratively draw in the sand that would separate my life both before, and after, the war that had claimed the life of the boy in me and so many of my young brothers. Resolve to persevere, no matter what else may come at me, for the rest of my days. Resolve to life a live worth the sacrifices my brothers made during those long, chaotic days in the summer and winter of 2010 and early 2011.
Then something else dawned on me, like a beam of knowledge straight from Chesty Puller’s ghost. “Not everyone is this lucky.” I thought to myself. “What if I found a few like-minded souls and did something about it?” was my next rapid fire thought. Then, like a snowball traveling downhill, the ideas kept rolling until I could barely contain my excitement. I was going to do something about the soul crushing feelings of despair, loneliness, survivor’s guilt, chemical dependency, abandonment, regret, anger, etc...the list is endless and varies based on the experiences of the individual Marine, Sailor, Soldier or Airmen.
A short time later, while attending the Outdoor Leadership program at Pikes Peak Community College, I met one of my truest friends who would go one to help me forge the path that First Summit would take. Jeff Hansell is as modest as they come, but fierce in spirit. Ole’ Sgt Hansell was an Army guy that did secret squirrel things neither of us have the clearance to talk about. Jeff now serves as First Summit Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer, and quiet professional, working behind the scenes with an altruistic personality. He will never brag about himself, but let me tell you the man genuinely wants to give back to his fellow veteran. Jeff & I frequently scheme about the long-term goal of First Summit Foundation, an adaptive gym for wounded and disabled veterans, LEO’s and civilians of the same spirit.
My father, R.W. Long, serves as the chairman of our board of directors and has a wealth of insight and encouragement in all disciplines. He is also the other half of the team that co-founded FSF after that fateful road trip in 2012. While never having served in the military, my old man has been waging his own war against Parkinson’s disease for the past 15 years. He was only in his mid-30’s when he was diagnosed with the same rare kind of Early Onset Parkinson’s that Michael J. Fox battles with. Never one to feel sorry for himself, he has since run the Marine Corps Marathon, twice completed the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, New Mexico, walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and summited over 10+ 14ers here in Colorado. He is the author of Push The Rock: Second Chances on the Road to Kilimanjaro that documents our shared trials and also provides a more in depth look at how First Summit came to be. The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. He is currently preparing for a return trip to Spain to hike a different trail portion of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela that will take him through Portugal.
As you can see, we firmly believe in Post-Traumatic Growth.
Post-traumatic growth (PTG) refers to positive psychological changes experienced as a result of adversity or a major life crisis in order to rise to a higher level of functioning. Post-traumatic growth is not about returning to the same life as it was previously experienced before a period of traumatic suffering; but rather it is about undergoing significant 'life-changing' psychological shifts in thinking and relating to the world, that contribute to a personal process of change that is deeply meaningful.
Come join us for a hike, climb, rafting trip, or one of our upcoming meet & greets where we’ll enjoy getting to know you and hear your story. We have so much more that we want to do for the military, veteran & LEO community; come help us build something worthwhile.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
- Charles Dickens
“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” - John Holmes
First Summit Foundation