Southern Illinois man paddling the entire Mississippi River to raise money for veterans

MAKANDA, IL — Ten states and 2,300 miles: A southern Illinois man has been paddling the entire length of the Mississippi River in a kayak.

Greg Nejmanowski is doing it to raise money for Veterans Adventures — a program that eases the transition from military life to civilian life. The program recently lost a grant that helped fund it.

Nejmanowski started at Lake Itasca in Minnesota in May. He made a brief pit stop in Illinois for an event to raise more money. So far, Nejmanowski has raised around $10,000. The goals is $25,000. On Saturday, St. Nicholas Brewing Company will host an event to raise money for Paddle for Patriots at the St. Nicholas Landmark in Chester, Illinois. The brewpub will donate 10% of each customer’s bill to Paddle for Patriots. After that, Nejmanowski will get back in his Kayak and paddle to the Gulf of Mexico.

When the SIU Touch of Nature Veterans Adventures program lost its $25,000, Nejmanowski — who is the grant coordinator for the program — decided to take it upon himself to raise the money. He embarked on the biggest adventure of his life, paddling the entire length of the Mississippi River. He said it’s the least he can do.

“Veterans are getting home and facing entirely new battles — things like anxiety and depression, which are symptoms of PTSD,” said Nejmanowski.

“He’s going through a lot of water, and all I can tell him is ride the waves,” said Navy veteran Tracie Davis.

Davis knows all about riding the waves. She’s a Dessert Storm Navy veteran. She’s participated in some of those Veterans Adventures. She said she’s inspired by Nejmanowski and his drive to save the program.

“The services, they’re life changing for a lot of veterans. Without those services, I think we would have a lot of veterans that would continue to struggle,” said Davis.

Flooding on the Mississippi River has been a hardship for many local southern Illinois communities. For Nejmanowski, it’s actually been helpful for his journey. “The high waters have allowed me to keep a really good pace and cover some distance,” said Nejmanowski.

But, on long days when it does get difficult, he remembers why he’s doing it. “There is no other community I rather give back to than to veterans — the people who have served our country on a level I never have or may never serve,” said Nejmanowski.

His mission should be complete in August.

The St. Nicholas fundraiser for Paddle for Patriots will be held from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at St. Nicholas Landmark in Chester, Illinois.

For more information about Saturday’s event or to donate online to Paddle for Patriots, click here.