Thursday, May 23, 2024

Beyond The Teams Ambassador to Compete in ParaCanoe World Championship

Beyond the Teams is having a fundraising campaign throughout May, which is also "Military Appreciation Month." David's inspiring story is a testament to the meaning of "empowerment through service" and how truly incredible the human spirit can be, prevailing over the most tragic of circumstances.

Beyond the Teams’ Ambassador and former Navy SEAL David Charbonnet qualified for the parakayaking World Championships just 13 months after he took up the sport.

Local nonprofit Beyond the Teams’ Ambassador and former Navy SEAL, David Charbonnet, will compete in the 2024 Paracanoe World Championships May 9 in Szeged, Hungary, with dreams of advancing to the Paralympics in Paris this summer. David was injured in 2011 after a parachute accident during a pre-deployment training jump left him paralyzed from the waist down. During his difficult rehabilitation journey, he realized that it was service to others that would ultimately be the driving force in his recovery. Through that service he also rekindled his desire to challenge himself physically and in 2023 he embarked on a journey that quickly led him to Para kayaking and a new goal of competing on the U.S. Paralympic Team.

David Charbonnet as he gives a testimonial for Beyond the Teams. Photo cut from YouTube video.

David is the son of a former Navy SEAL, Mike Charbonnet, and was born in San Diego while his father was stationed with the SEALs in Coronado. As a Navy kid he moved a bit when he was young, first to Hawaii and later he spent most of his formative years in a town north of Houston, Texas. On the day he graduated high school he decided that he would enlist in the Navy to be a Navy SEAL like his father. He went to boot camp and found out he was color blind and ineligible to be a Navy SEAL. That obstacle only further impassioned David to pursue his desire to serve as a SEAL and he ultimately achieved his goal after three years of navigating the waiver system. He knew he was capable of being a SEAL, and his motivation and resolve helped him through the challenges he faced to enter the training program as well as complete BUD/S and SQT training.

Just days before he was to leave on his first deployment with SEAL Team One, the accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down put an end to his dreams of being a SEAL. The tragedy ended up leading David on a different path of service. David said, “My recovery really happened after I started serving again, helping others helped me heal emotionally.”

David Charbonnet is a Board Member for VIP NeuroRehabilitation and sits with Brian Terrell, their executive director. Photo courtesy of VIP NeuroRehabilitation website.

David took on the role as ambassador for Beyond the Teams as a way to give back and serve others that may face similar challenges he faced. After his injury in 2011 he was initially treated at the VA hospital in La Jolla as an inpatient and when released, his SEAL Team physical therapist found outpatient care for him at VIP NeuroRehabilitation, a San Diego nonprofit that aspires to deliver top-quality outpatient NeuroRehabilitation care to disabled military and veterans. David was so grateful for the great care he was provided that he took on a role as president of the organization two years after being treated by them. His primary role was to raise funds to support the nonprofit.

David’s parents wanted to help raise money and his dad decided to do a bike ride from San Francisco to San Diego as a fundraiser. The fundraiser went well and while Mike Charbonnet was later attending a SEAL Class #98 reunion, he shared the story with his teammates. Ā “That is how Beyond the Teams was born, they have raised about $400,000 so far, not only for VIP NeuroRehabilitation but also for other like-minded organizations,” said David. The shared desire for a purpose, to serve others and be part of a team again while doing it is integral to the success of Beyond the Teams.

Photo from Beyond the Teams Ride in 2019 courtesy of Beyond the Teams website.

When I asked David how he got into Para kayaking he said, “Initially I was resistant to getting into a para sport after being injured, but I got into kayaking in preparation for the Yukon 1000, the world’s longest canoe race from Canada to Alaska.” One of David’s former SEAL teammates, Chadd Wright an ultra-athlete, wanted to do an ultra-race with him and they found this race as something they could both do, despite David’s injury. Kayaking is a sport that paralyzed athletes can train for with able bodied athletes and David trains with everyone from the juniors on Mission Bay to the US Men’s National Team.

“I liked it, because I didn’t feel like I was handicapped in any way. Coach Barlow [David’s Kayaking Coach and former US Olympic Kayaker] got me excited to train toward the goal of qualifying for the Paralympics this year. I have only been paddling for 13 months so it is a long shot but we have been working hard and if I don’t make it this year, I will train for 2028.” David said he is looking forward to meeting the Para kayak community at the World Championships as quite a few are former military and they may have a connection. “I think it is so important to be part of a team, whether it is your family, a sports team, or a community group of some sort. Being part of something bigger than yourself, giving back and service will feed your soul and help you through whatever challenges you face.”

David met his wife in high school and they are raising their three children while he maintains a board position at VIP NeuroRehabilitation, is the ambassador to Beyond the Teams and is in training for the Paralympics. David has relied on his faith to help him through the most difficult of times. David said, “Every time I’ve had something terrible happen to me, it has directly led to the best thing that has ever happened to me. There is only one way to go and that is forward.”

Retired SEALs Pat Shelton, Jay Tansley, and Paul Padro embark on a 150-mile Beyond The Teams Memorial Paddle from Key West to Miami. Photo courtesy of Beyond the Teams

According to their website, Beyond the Teams was established in 2019 to “engage and empower former Navy SEALs, veterans and first responders to push their personal boundaries and seize their full potential through continued service.”

Heidi Iverson, Executive Director for Beyond the Teams shared, “Beyond the Teams rallies around veterans like David, offering rehabilitation and reintegration programs to rekindle their sense of purpose and community. [We] support veterans through rehabilitation services and tailored programs designed to empower recovery and re-engage warriors in meaningful pursuits. Our organization is dedicated to extending the sense of camaraderie and service beyond active duty, providing a community for veterans to thrive.”

Beyond the Teams is having a fundraising campaign throughout May, which is also “Military Appreciation Month.” David’s inspiring story is a testament to the meaning of “empowerment through service” and how truly incredible the human spirit can be, prevailing over the most tragic of circumstances. As their ambassador, David is sharing his personal journey to inspire others to rally around Beyond the Teams.



Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie Groeneveld
Jeannie is a retired Naval Aviator and Public Affairs Officer whose post-Navy career includes freelance writing, PR Consulting and a two year stint as the San Diego Padres Military Affairs Advisor. Having been stationed in various parts of the country including Washington D.C., Florida and Hawaii, Jeannie appreciates how amazing the Coronado community is and loves the experience her children have had growing up here. Jeannie earned her BS in Marine Biology from Auburn University, her MS in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego and her MA in Communication and Media Relations at San Diego State University. A life-long learner and avid traveler Jeannie enjoys writing travel pieces, Navy stories and anything else that will broaden her perspective. When she is not working you will find her watching her boys play sports, walking Odin at dog beach, hiking, playing beach volleyball or spending time with the family.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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