Capt. John Blonsick is used to traveling at roughly the speed of sound. As a commercial pilot for Delta Airlines, he made six ocean crossings in the 12 days leading up to Christmas. Europe, Asia, Africa, North America – jet lag is part of the job description.
Yet Blonsick, 50, has chosen to spend his downtime in a less-than-relaxing way: kayaking the 150 miles from Sanford to Jacksonville along the St. Johns River to raise money for the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project. Tackling the journey 20 to 30 miles at a stretch, on the water he averages just 3.5 miles per hour.
He also carries a machete and a World War II fighting knife to even the odds against alligators and snakes who might object to his route. With no chase boat to accompany him for most of his run, there is no help for hours or miles should something go wrong. “When you’re alone on a long stretch of water with nothing but river and trees, failure is not an option,” he says.
A Navy veteran, Blonsick was introduced to the Wounded Warrior cause by a friend who served as a contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blonsick calls his quest “the Patriot Paddle,” and this week he plans to finish the final segment, between Orange Park and Jacksonville.
Already he has kayaked from Sanford to Hontoon Island, Astor, Georgetown, Welaka, Palatka and Green Coves Springs. He hopes to raise $3,000 in contributions – all of which will go directly to the Wounded Warrior Project. He is covering all the costs of the journey himself. Blonsick also wants to create an annual one-day kayaking event as an ongoing fundraiser for the program.
To cover 150 miles, after all, is not for the casual kayaker. Blonsick has encountered swarms of blind mosquitoes, high waves, gators, water moccasins and deep fatigue. “Sometimes when the wind is blowing and the waves are throwing me around, I have my doubts,” he says. “[But] I think of injured soldiers and know my inconvenience means nothing next what they have suffered.” The Wounded Warrior Project helps combat-injured men and women through various physical challenges and activities designed to reignite a passion for living. Blonsick figures it’s the least the country should do.
“When you come home from war injured, you deserve a better shot at recovery than we gave guys coming home from Vietnam,” he says.
If you’d like to support the charity by sponsoring Blonsick, click here.