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Sharkbait returns to the water to raise funds for homeless vets

Ryan prepared to climb out at the end of the final leg of swimming at the first event.

Team Sharkbait will hit the Hudson River waters again this Saturday.

For the third year, Ryan Menke, Senior Vice President of Sales at OFS, will endure a grueling run and swim broken up by 100s of pushups and several series of 22 pullups as part of a fundraiser for homeless veterans through the GI GO Fund.

The GI GO Fund is a nonprofit formed by the childhood friends of Lt. Seth Dvorin who wanted to honor their friend’s ultimate sacrifice in Iraq. Lt. Dvorin was killed by an IED and his friends decided to make it their mission to remember him by helping veterans.

The organization provides employment assistance to veterans in a myriad of ways. They have programs to assist veterans looking for employment and housing as well as help with developing small businesses, provide transportation, mentoring, job training, and more.

Three years ago, organizers weren’t sure how well the Navy SEAL Swim and Run would go. But, 35 men ran, pushed, pulled, and swam the Hudson River accomplishing their mission. It was the first sanctioned swim across the river and it raised about $250,000 for homeless veterans. At about $10,000 per vet, this impacted 25 individuals and with this success under their belt, the group began to plan the next event.

Ryan was the only civilian who made the cut for the inaugural event. As the lone civilian among the 32 Navy SEALS, the military special operators nicknamed him Sharkbait and only allowed him to join in the event if he promised not to die.

Driven by respect for the sacrifice veterans make in their service, he completed the swim and run all while attempting to remain out of the spotlight. His efforts garnered about $75,000 in donations and helped to increase the reach of the story of the small group dedicated to helping their fellow veterans.

Here is a story on that first event.

Additionally, after Ryan didn’t die on the first swim, the group established qualifiers around the country for other civilians to join. In 2020, 65 participants took on the challenge and they exceeded the first year’s total despite Covid-19 casting its ugly shadow over the year.

The participants want to continue the trend this year.

At dawn this Saturday, 200 flag-toting veterans and civilian patriots will take off from the Empty Sky Memorial on a two-mile run down to the pier in New Jersey State Park to jump in the Hudson River. Then, they will swim about three-quarters of a mile to the Statue of Liberty where they will get pulled onto a barge. There they will complete 100 pushups and 22 pullups — 22 is significant because in 2012 the Department of Veteran Affairs released a report which showed that roughly 22 veterans were dying by suicide per day, or one every 65 minutes.

Then they will jump back in the water to swim three-quarters of a mile to Ellis Island. There, they will repeat the pushups and pullups before taking on the longest leg of their swim. If the current and wind don’t work against them, they will swim another two and half miles to Battery Park before getting out, taking up their flags again, and running about a half-mile to the 9/11 Memorial.

Once at the Memorial, the participants complete another 100 pushups and 22 pullups before there is a closing ceremony.

Then each participant seeks out a name of a 9/11 victim at the Memorial where they plant their flag. Ryan always looks for Edward F. Geraghty.

Geraghty was the 45-year-old battalion chief of Battalion 9 with the New York Fire Department. He was the head of the training academy and on September 11th he was overseeing several firehouses that responded to the disaster when he was killed. The father of three was described as a dedicated family man‚ an avid runner‚ a eucharistic minister‚ and a key organizer for hometown charities. As he rose through the ranks‚ friends recall that the 23-veteran was always a fireman at heart.

Ryan plants his flag in front of Geraghty’s name because he is connected to OFS. Geraghty’s brother-in-law is a district manager for the Huntingburg company.

This year’s event will also commemorate the 20 year anniversary of the attacks on September 11 as well as the 10 year anniversary of Extortion 17, which was the call sign for a U.S. CH-47 Chinook military helicopter that was shot down on August 6, 2011, in Afghanistan. The crash occurred while transporting a quick reaction force attempting to reinforce a unit of Army Rangers, resulting in the worst loss of U.S. military life in a single incident in the Afghanistan campaign.

For Ryan, the first year was about paying his respects and just helping.

“What happened on that day was pretty transformative in that I got to be around these amazing individuals and just kind of watch and soak it all in,” he said about the experience. “That was kind of in the moment, and then I got to learn more about different people’s struggles with the transition from military service back into civilian life.”

Through the experience, Ryan has taken on helping veterans as more of a passion project. He’s part of a fitness accountability group through OFS that raises funds for veteran organizations. Recently, the 45-year-old Holland resident ran 53 miles from Evansville to Holland to raise funds for the GI GO Fund. He was joined in the run by Eric Evitts, a local Marine with a huge heart and passion for helping veterans.

Right now, Ryan and his team are in the process of planning a commemorative run at Cool Springs. Planned for September 11th this year, the event will raise funds to help homeless veterans as well.

If you want to support homeless veterans and Ryan’s efforts on Saturday, donations can be made through the GI GO Fund page set up here.