Carry the Load co-founder finds peace in seeing Americans step up to challenge

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by JIM DOUGLAS

WFAA

Posted on May 13, 2013 at 7:59 AM

DALLAS -- On a peaceful day at White Rock Lake, parents with young children seek out shade and watch the wind kick up waves. The last thing on most people's minds is suffering.

Clint Bruce isn't most people.

"What I know how to do is put on a pack and go," Bruce said. "The classic military action is a road march. I felt like I needed to walk it off."

The former Navy SEAL needed to walk off some Memorial Day anger a few years ago; to feel the pain of reconnecting with fallen friends who seemed forgotten on the holiday created for them.

So, he hoisted his backpack, intentionally loaded with 60- or 70-pounds of weight, and started to walk the trails around the lake.

"I've always felt there are only two ways to create a tribe, to create this brotherhood," he said. "It's either through long periods of time, or condensed suffering."

He learned this through SEAL training, and before that, as a Naval Academy football star, where he was the leading tackler for three years. At 39, he remains a powerful physical presence.

As Bruce suffered through hour after hour beneath a heavy pack at the lake, he passed an old man who seemed to understand this ritual. Bruce took him for a World War II veteran by his insight and demeanor.

"He said, 'Son,' I said, 'Yessir.' He said, 'Who are you carrying?'" Bruce recalled.

He said that simple question unlocked and clarified his emotions. That's where the name of his non-profit, Carry the Load, comes from.

The bigger story is where it's going.

In 2011, Bruce co-founded Carry the Load with fellow former SEAL Stephen Holly.

Last year, Carry the Load launched a walking relay from West Point, New York, to Dallas, and invited anyone along the way to join.

We walked in Arkansas last May with former SEAL Coleman Ruiz.

Much of the time, there were just a few walkers. But this year, the relay is drawing a lot more.

This year, the murder of Bruce's close friend, Chris Kyle, focused national attention on SEALs and sacrifice. This year, we felt the deaths of 12 volunteer firefighters in the West, Texas explosion.

"They did what they did because they thought America was worth it," Bruce said. "We're just challenging America to prove it. Chris [Kyle] thought you were worth it. That's why he took the risks. So be worth it."

America seems to be looking for a way to show gratitude. Suddenly, thousands are stepping up to Carry the Load.

"To go from 500 in 2011, to north of 20,000 is pretty spectacular," Clint Bruce said, sitting in a shelter at White Rock Lake. "It's an encouraging thing about America."

Twenty thousand or more people are expected to participate in Carry the Load activities this Memorial Day weekend. Austin will have its own event, led by the sister of fallen SEAL Jonas Kelsall. 9/11 families joined Carry the Load walkers at the site of the World Trade Center in early May. Good Morning America gave the movement more publicity.

Clint Bruce doesn't expect everyone to walk -- especially not the 20-hour march he'll lead in Dallas on May 26 & 27 at the end of the relay.

He's just glad more Americans are pausing to consider the price of a peaceful day.

And there's one more thing.

"Now three years down the road," he said, "I'm not angry anymore."

Not now that so many are showing they're willing to carry just a little of the load that was carried for them.

In addition to focusing Americans on the meaning of Memorial Day, Carry the Load is also raising money for charities that help families, especially children,  of fallen military, police, and fire fighters. To see some of those charities, and learn more about the relay and Memorial Day weekend walk, go to www.carrytheload.org.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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