The event was held May 5, 2022, in honor of Ryan Larkin, a decorated Navy SEAL who served four tours of duty during more than a decade of service. During his deployments, Larkin saw heavy combat that required breaching through walls and doors with powerful explosions.
His service also exposed him to improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs.
As a result, Larkin experienced headaches, insomnia, trouble concentrating and irritability. Friends noted a sharp change in behavior. Despite seeking help from the medical community for several years, his condition went without an accurate diagnosis. In 2017, Larkin ended his own life.
“Ryan suffered from microscopic tears to his brain so small they weren’t able to be diagnosed while he was alive,” said RockN’Ryan co-founder and Larkin’s longtime best friend Max Petit.”I’ve heard it referred to as an invisible wound; the impact it was having wasn’t invisible.”
RockN’Ryan was created to help advance research of TBI and its link to veteran suicide. The event also served as a platform for participants to discuss the challenges veterans with brain injuries face.
“We talked a lot about how so many veterans get diagnosed with PTSD once they start having symptoms like Ryan’s. They’re given medications and treatment for PTSD that just don’t help their problems go away” said Petit, “That’s because, a lot of the time, the problem is much more than PTSD.”
Proceeds of the tournament were donated to Cohen Veterans Bioscience (CVB), a non-profit organization using scientific research, data analytics and biotechnology to create better diagnostics and treatments for brain disorders.
“We wanted to support Cohen Veterans Bioscience because how they approach treatment for veterans resonated with us,” said Robyn Bollhorst co-founder of RockN’Ryan. “There are other organizations out there offering helplines and therapy‚ and those are great, but as employees of the tech industry, we appreciate CVB is using research and cutting-edge technology to solve these problems, and we knew it would resonate with our participants, some of whom were veterans, as well.”
The RockN’Ryan first place fish measured 49 inches long and was reeled in by Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Jeddah Deloria. The event raised more than $10,500.
More than eighty people on 15 boats competed in the sold-out event.
“We’re really proud of what we were able to do this first year, but this was just a practice round,” said Kyle Bollhorst co-founder of RockN’Ryan. “We plan on growing and making RockN’Ryan a well-known event all around the Chesapeake Bay.”
The team plans to bring the event back in 2023 to continue their mission of raising funds for Cohen Veterans Bioscience’s TBI research as well as awareness to the problems veterans face.
“Visibility for traumatic brain injury is the most important thing we got out of the event,” said Kyle. “We all go about our everyday lives and enjoy our freedom in our country, but people don’t understand the sacrifices of our veterans who experience these invisible wounds overseas then come home and have to deal with them.”
Each year, an estimated 1.5 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury, according to the CDC. While everyday activities like playing sports or being in a car accident can result in a TBI, military service members are also at a risk from proximity to explosive blasts.
Injuries can range from mild concussions to more severe outcomes resulting in death.
“Ryan kept telling me he knew something was wrong in his head like he couldn’t hold the same amount of information,” said Petit. “He didn’t care about keeping up with his interests or the things he was passionate about.”
According to CVB, nineteen percent of returning service members from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reported probable TBIs during deployment. TBI is known to dramatically increase an individual’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia as well as increasing the risk of suicide.
“He was the most capable guy I knew, so it was confusing when he started to doubt himself, telling me he was scared to do certain things,” said Petit. “Looking back, I regret not being more understanding. I wish I knew more about TBI.”
Ryan Larkin was known as an intelligent and capable go-getter, steady in his demeanor and quick with his humor. He loved spending time on the water, wakeboarding when he had any opportunity. He was a respected Navy SEAL special operations combat medic and explosive breacher, having deployed on four combat-heavy tours between 2008 and 2013. Among Larkin‚Äôs impressive list of awards: the Bronze Star, Army Commendation and Navy-Marine Corps Achievement medals.
But to Petit, most of all, he was a loyal friend.
“We spent so much time together and made so many memories growing up,” said Petit. “He was always good at doing the right thing. He was really the best guy I knew.”
The pair met when Larkin’s family moved from New Jersey to Maryland when the boys were 14 years old.
“Ryan and I met at our neighborhood dock and quickly became friends over our shared love of boating and the water. We dove and got really into wakeboarding,” said Petit. “We even cleaned the bottoms of boats together during the summer.”
Through the years, the adventurous duo was inseparable, but when Ryan returned home from his third and fourth deployments, Petit felt his friend had changed.
“He was anxious and confused and you could just tell he was going through a lot.”
After Larkin’s passing, Petit took time to quietly honor the memory of his friend before working out a plan to affect change in the name of veterans suffering from TBI.
“It felt like it was time to give back,” said Petit. “I did my research and found out there is no one else using a scientific approach to this problem like CVB. I wanted to get involved.”
Larkin’s story resonates with both veterans and civilians, according to Petit, so he felt it could be used as a tool to organize people for a good cause.
“It started out as a way to honor our friend, but it’s about more than Ryan. Ryan wouldn’t want it to be all about him,” said Petit. “We’re doing this to help do our part to fast-track treatments for all of the veterans who served honorably and are looking for answers.”