Just over a decade ago, Nate Boyer felt a little lost. He felt like he was drifting – “just a young guy in his early 20s trying to figure it out,” he said.
Then he came across a photojournalism article in Time magazine about the genocide in Darfur.
“The images were just so incredibly strong, and it broke my heart,” Boyer said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “But at the same time, it kind of inspired me and pushed me to go do something about that or try to help in any way I could. So I went over to the Darfur region in Sudan and worked at some of the refugee camps there for a couple months and really gained my patriotism and love for my country and everything that I had and was just given by simply being born here. I wanted to do something to try to pay that back or earn the right to sort of be here, so I joined the Army, and that’s where theres of all that started.”
Boyer became a Green Beret, received special forces training and eventually wound up as a walk-on long-snapper at the University of Texas – even though he had never played organized football. Boyer originally wanted to be a wide receiver or safety and began training to do while serving in Iraq.
Then he realized he wasn’t particularly big or fast.
Long-snapping it was.
“I honestly didn’t even know what a long snapper was,” Boyer said. “When I got to the team, I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a guy that does just that? That just snaps on field goals and punts?’ I didn’t know.”
Boyer wound up long-snapping for Texas and, believe it or not, for the Seattle Seahawks during a preseason game against the Denver Broncos. The Seahawks cut Boyer, 34, on Aug. 18.
A day later, however, Rams defensive end Chris Long contacted Boyer and told him about his Waterboys Initiative, which seeks to provide clean drinking water to villages in East Africa. Boyer was immediately intrigued. In fact, he is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with Marine veteran Blake Watson, a single-leg amputee, to raise money for wells that can provide clean drinking water.
Boyer’s initial goal was to raise $100,000 between the two of them, which would have been enough for two wells. But because they surpassed that rather quickly, the new goal is $1 million, which would be enough for 22 wells – symbolic, Boyer said, because an average of 22 veterans commit suicide ever day.
“I think most veterans, guys that have been on infantry-type units where we actually do go outside the wire and do engagement combat quite a bit, most of these guys probably have some form of PTSD,” Boyer said. “However, it’s a human condition, not just a solider condition. There’s a lot of people out there that have symptoms like that. One of the things I’m really aiming at doing is not only helping those guys – because we don’t just need help; we need purpose – but also kind of erasing the stigma (that) all of us are broken. Just because we’ve had these things happen to us and it does affect us and sometimes it makes things a challenge, it doesn’t destroy us and we’re not so fragile all the time. We still go out and accomplish a lot of things. A lot of times, it’s crazier, bigger and more difficult things than a normal person would do because we’re different. We have something inside of us that has not only that service element, but a little bit of crazy too – and that can be a good thing. There’s just so many stories and people that I’ve met along the way that are doing some amazing things. I’m proud to be a part of that group, I’ll say that.”