Image for Travis Ellis & Shepherd’s Men: Why We Ran 1,300 Miles (And Won’t Stop)

Travis Ellis

Shepherd’s Men: Why We Ran 1,300 Miles (And Won’t Stop)

Lessons from several grueling journeys made to benefit a life-saving program for America’s veterans and first responders.


It's hard to say which of his good turns was the craziest.

Was it running 684 miles from Atlanta to Washington D.C.? Or the 1,300-mile journey from Boston back down south?

Or maybe it was the time he and his teammates hiked hundreds of miles from the Flight 93 crash site while carrying 93 pounds - half their bodyweight or more for most participants - all the way.

Those are just some of the grueling journeys undertaken by our latest guest, Travis Ellis of Shepherd's Men.

Ellis and other members do it all to raise funds and awareness for the SHARE Military Initiative, a life-saving program for military veterans and first responders at Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

And in today's interview, Ellis explains why he's happy to make these sacrifices — because it could help alleviate the physical and mental suffering that so many of America's heroes live with every day.

Shepherd Center is one of the top hospitals in the nation for treating brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and other neuromuscular conditions.

Its SHARE Military Initiative is a one-of-a-kind rehabilitation program.

The program focuses on service members who have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from military service since September 11th, including those who suffer from symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In today's interview, Ellis explains why the SHARE initiative has been able to succeed where other programs have fallen short.

One helpful reason why: SHARE is available at no cost to those it serves, thanks to generous charitable support.

Ellis is one of the driving forces behind that support. His organization Shepherd's Men has raised more than $8 million for SHARE to date.

Shepherd's Men earned a lot of those funds through brutal physical challenges.

In this episode, Ellis will explain why he chose such a difficult path for raising awareness and what it takes to endure such formidable challenges.

He'll also tell the stories of a few people who might not be here today without the work of Shepherd's SHARE initiative.

  • Congressional Medal recipients recognize and award Travis Ellis, a fellow hero (4:02)
  • The most grueling physical challenge Shepherd's Men has taken on, and what got them through (25:24)
  • What Travis wishes everyone understood about mental health challenges (30:46)
  • How SHARE Military Initiative gave Jorge Rodriguez his life back (26:37)
  • The man who saved Travis's life from ruin (37:55)

FRANK BLAKE: Okay, terrific. Well, it is an honor to have you on the podcast. Welcome, Travis Ellis.

TRAVIS ELLIS: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.

FRANK BLAKE: So I've got one question I want to start with because you're the recipient of an award that I had not heard about before, but when I looked into, honestly, I was just amazed by this award.

You received the Citizen Honor Award, and I think that was in 2017. And if you could just give a little bit of background first on the group that gives the award and then second what the award is about.

I'd love to start right there.

TRAVIS ELLIS: Sure. No, absolutely. It's a very humbling experience.

In March of 2017, I went to Washington, D.C., and was presented the Citizen's Honor Award by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

And basically, the society selects a handful of people each year for various merits and awards them with this recognition. It's hard being a part of-

FRANK BLAKE: So Travis, just to stop you for a second to make sure that I understand it right, these are people who won the Congressional Medal of honor turning around and honoring some other citizen of the country.

TRAVIS ELLIS: Absolutely.

So in D.C. that March, there were probably 25 to 30 living recipients and there was an event at the Library of Congress and then at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall there in D.C. where you presented the award and a gentleman named Clint Romesha presented mine and Clint received his Congressional Medal of honor for actions in Afghanistan.

And it was just an incredibly humbling experience.

And to be in the company of these giants of men who have just performed these heroic deeds, it's still something that humbles me.

I've never been one to seek personal attention. And so it's an award that I've never shown anyone.

It stays in a box…

FRANK BLAKE: Really? Oh, really?

TRAVIS ELLIS: Because I didn't accomplish what we have accomplished individually.

Now, I know you have to have a voice, you have to have a leader, but at the end of the day, there were many people who have joined this cause and this mission that have made us successful.

And so while it's one of the honors of my lifetime and it's something I'll never forget, it's also not something that I brag about.

I consider it a group award, and I was proud to be able to represent our group in receiving it.

FRANK BLAKE: Well, again, from the research I did into it, the fact that we've got these truly heroic, I mean, just outstanding individuals who get together and pick other citizens of the country who are doing great service to their fellow citizens.

I just think of the awards one could get in life, whether personal or for your group, hard to top that, just hard to top.

TRAVIS ELLIS: No, it was.

We lost a recipient a couple of weeks ago. He was the first recipient to receive... the first individual to receive the Medal of Honor for Actions in Vietnam, a gentleman named Roger Donlon.

And he was there that week. And to be able to just be in his company and so many of these men who are just heroic in their actions, it makes you feel quite small and quite humble.

FRANK BLAKE: So Travis, explain for our listeners why you and the group received the award.

TRAVIS ELLIS: So in 2014, myself and some friends who were stationed at a reconnaissance, Marine Corps reconnaissance company in Smyrna, Georgia, we came up with the idea that we wanted to support a program at the Shepherd Center here in Atlanta, the SHARE Military Initiative.

SHARE was started approximately 15 years ago based on some seed money that your friend, Bernie Marcus, provided to Shepherd Center.

And the program operates virtually exclusively through donor funding. We had had friends that have graduated the program who had had their lives transformed.

And so we wanted to be able to support it financially.

FRANK BLAKE: And tell a little bit about what it does, what's the SHARE program about and what moved you as to become so involved with it?

TRAVIS ELLIS: I think the biggest factor that moved me was having friends who received care there who have told me that if not for SHARE, I wouldn't be here.

If not for SHARE, then my children would sit around the table at night knowing their father as a sobering statistic and not daddy.

And so that is the genesis for activity. And then just seeing what SHARE was all about.

SHARE provides acute comprehensive care for post-9/11 veterans and now first responders who have suffered some sort of neurological trauma, so traumatic brain injury.

It's kind of known as the signature injury in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And unfortunately, these injuries were often going undiagnosed and untreated.

And for these injuries, I'm not sure conventional modalities of therapy as we know it have been working.

So we wanted to find a way to raise awareness to let folks know more about this life-saving program and also try to find some ways to help meet the clinical budget needs.

So we started out doing these kind of grueling, over-the-top physical endeavors, and that morphed into various events and building a network and a team on what's become now a national scale.

And we've raised over $8.5 million. We have no labor, no salary, it's just volunteers doing God's work.

FRANK BLAKE: So it is amazing.

And I want to get into your approach on fundraising, which is unique.

But before we get to that, describe a little bit for our listeners what the program does and maybe what sets it apart from other approaches to brain injury rehabilitation?

TRAVIS ELLIS: Sure. I think what sets it apart, it provides every clinical discipline that a service member may need in a collaborative environment.

So it's clinical psychology to social work, recreational therapy, occupational, vestibular, pain management, chaplaincy.

And to receive all these clinical disciplines, say, in a big broad healthcare system, it would probably take you two to three years.

But SHARE is able to deliver in 16 weeks.

And all of these clinicians who are world-class, they work collaboratively day-to-day, providing just the best outcomes and the best treatment plan for the individual.

FRANK BLAKE: So I know you've visited the Shepherd Center a lot and interacted with the men and women who've been patients of the SHARE military initiative.

What's that experience like? What kind of impact does that have on you?

TRAVIS ELLIS: Yeah, I mean anytime you go down there, you certainly feel inspired.

I mean, I think that the biggest takeaway is just the genuine care that the clinicians have for the clients in the program.

They are not seen as a social security number or service number, they are seen as a human being.

And through those interactions, they are delivering a level of care that's just unlike anything out there in our healthcare system.

And to talk to the clients and to become friends with them and to know that many wouldn't be here without this program.

This was the last gasp of air for so many. Several of these have tasted the barrel of a gun.

Many have made plans and were willing to carry out those plans to end their life and somehow, whether it be through divine providence or whatever, they found SHARE and now they found wellness.

And I think we owe it to the few that raise their right hand to allow us to be free to enjoy the liberties that we enjoy today to care for them when they return home from combat.

And unfortunately, I think we failed. I think the bureaucracies have failed our war fighters.

I think it's easy for... Not to go down a rabbit hole, but I think it's easy for politicians to send somebody else's sons and daughters to fight wars.

You wish it would be as easy to care for them when they return home injured from their days or years of combat.

FRANK BLAKE: One of the most remarkable stories you've told us about Gary Herbert, will you share that with our listeners?


So Gary was on a 24-man team in Afghanistan.

And Gary, when he joined the Army, he was 26 years old and just had messed up every facet of his life.

So the Army was giving out pretty robust bonuses at the time to join. And so Gary was like, okay, I'll see what soldiering looks like.

So he joined the Army and once he did, things clicked and he performed really well.

He was a good soldier. Fast-forward to Afghanistan on his first deployment.

Every vehicle in his team was hit by an IED and Gary's vehicle was hit. And while nobody died in country, everyone was affected adversely.

Gary returned home, he started to struggle performing kind of basic tenets of life.

He couldn't remember to take medicine, balance his checkbook, just do very basic necessities of life there.

And he was in a toxic relationship and decided that if he could do one thing right at a time where he was doing not much else right, he was going to give his mom and dad a proper military funeral.

And so the Army had medically retired him at this time, and the one thing that he did well was taken away from him.

And so he was in Fort Drum, New York, and as Gary would tell you, he waited until his cell phone battery got down to 2% and he called his mom and dad in Douglasville, Georgia.

And he was talking to his mother on the phone and he was apologizing. And his dad somehow got in touch with New York State Police, and within the time Gary was on the phone with his mother, New York State police arrived at his home.

They were able to not detain, but they were able to quell the situation there and get the firearm from Gary and save his life.

And it's a remarkable thing because Gary had made the decision that he didn't want to live anymore.

And now because of SHARE, and more so because of his parents, the DNA that's inside him and who he is, Gary is not only living but he's thriving.

He spent 16 weeks at Shepherd Center.

He, through recreational therapy, he learned how to tie flies and that fly-tying morphed into building fly rods.

Gary has since won a national fly rod building competition.

He wakes every day. He has a sense of purpose. He's building fly rods for people all over the country, and he engages in our mission on a daily basis.

And he's a wonderful ambassador.

He's a great human being, and he could easily not be here just as much as he is.

And I'm so thankful that, first of all, that evening was divine providence. There had to be God's hand in that.

And God had a plan for Gary that maybe Gary didn't have for himself.

And now, Gary is able to be a touch point and just a tentacle to reaching other veterans. And I know through Gary's engagement with our group and serving as an ambassador for SHARE, he is saving lives daily.

FRANK BLAKE: What an amazing story.

Tell us a little bit about your own connection to the Shepherd Center and SHARE, what started that?

TRAVIS ELLIS: So I learned of Shepherd Center through a friend who I served on a board of an organization in Atlanta called Camp Twin Lakes, and Camp Twin Lakes provided camp experiences for physically or emotionally challenged children.

And they also were doing some veteran camp experiences.

So I would go out and I would volunteer at these camps, and through that, met an individual who told me about his time at Shepherd Center and SHARE.

And so I wanted to learn more.

And at that time, I was also chairing a leadership program through the Chamber of Commerce, and that program was a military-civilian interface.

And so you would take business leaders, civic leaders, and you would pair them with officers, generally, 04, 05, and you would educate them on national defense, A, in our own backyard, but on a broader scale.

You would take them around the country and let them fly on C-130s and whatnot.

But as I tried to stress to everyone, our most precious asset is not the C-130, it's not an F-15, it's not a Bradley fighting vehicle, our most precious asset, it's the man or the woman who raises their right hand to our uniform.

And we owe these individuals all we have.

And so we would spend one day of the program year taking them to Shepherd Center.

And you hoped that organically it would create a willingness and a want for these folks to want to support SHARE as well and learn more about it.

But through that, brought a bunch of Marines for that program day, and a really good friend who was a captain in the Marine Corps or a major in the Marine Corps at the time, he was PCS-ing and he was leaving our community. And so-

FRANK BLAKE: What did PCS-ing mean?

TRAVIS ELLIS: Basically, he was leaving to go to a new duty station.

So he was going to Camp Lejeune from Smyrna, and wanted to do something to celebrate his time in our community.

And so any leader, to really honor that leader, I think you honor the people and the stories.

So that's what we tried to do.

We flew in the families of two Marines that he lost in Fallujah, Iraq, on Veterans Day in 2004.

And we had an artist do a commission painting of these Marines, and we wanted to honor him by honoring these Marines that were lost.

So there's a painting that hangs in the main hallway of Shepherd Center now, and the thought is that even in death, perhaps these Marines can breathe life or inspire others.

But through that, I met a gentleman named Troy Campbell, who at the time was a staff sergeant in Marine Corps.

And we started working out together and we would do these intense workouts every morning. We would run 5 to 10 miles and then lift weights for two hours and just do ridiculous things.

And Troy mentioned that, "Hey, I want to run from our unit to the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia."

FRANK BLAKE: His unit where?

TRAVIS ELLIS: In Smyrna, Georgia.

FRANK BLAKE: His unit in Smyrna, Georgia, to Washington D.C.?



TRAVIS ELLIS: But he only wanted to do it because he liked to run.

FRANK BLAKE: How many miles is that? That's got to be over 500 miles.

TRAVIS ELLIS: It was. Yes, sir.

So I told him that that's a noble undertaking, but why don't we do this but do it for a cause? And so we decided to try and raise dollars and awareness for SHARE.

So we ran, the week of Memorial Day, from Smyrna, Georgia, to Arlington, Virginia. It was-

FRANK BLAKE: How many miles is it?


FRANK BLAKE: Wow. Wow. Okay. So that's a tough...

So you decide you're going to run 684 miles, and you're going to raise money in the process.

TRAVIS ELLIS: Yes, sir. So we did that. We made a decision.

FRANK BLAKE: Do people think this was a great idea?

Or they say this is the craziest thing we've ever heard?

TRAVIS ELLIS: Troy thought it was a great idea.

There were others who weren't as bought in, but there were 10 of us that did it. And we set a goal of raising $100,000.

We raised 135, but we made a decision from day one, we weren't going to take any dollars raised and make any comfort or convenience based decision.

We weren't spending money on a hotel, we weren't spending money on a meal.

So that year, we stayed in random people's homes in Gastonia, North Carolina, through the Rotary Club.

We slept in a field one night. We slept in a parking lot of a fire station, and we honored that commitment.

We raised 135K and a hundred percent of those dollars went back to SHARE.

FRANK BLAKE: How many days does it take?

TRAVIS ELLIS: That took us seven days.

FRANK BLAKE: Wow. Wow. I am just curious as...

Sorry, this is a little off point, but my own curiosity as you're doing this, are you going, why am I doing this?

Or are you getting more confident as you go along or both?

TRAVIS ELLIS: I think you're motivated by the fellowship as much as the cause, just being out there with the guys and just the banter and enjoying the suck or just the miserable experience together.

And that's what it was. And something like that tends to-

FRANK BLAKE: So you were running nearly 100 miles a day?

TRAVIS ELLIS: Well, we split it up. There were 10 of us.

So over the course of the week, you essentially were running 14 to maybe 20 miles a day.

FRANK BLAKE: Okay. That's still grueling. That's still incredible.

That's like almost a marathon a day.

TRAVIS ELLIS: Yeah. And we had no support.

There were no police closures for lanes.

We're running on white lines, on rural parts of Virginia and North Carolina.

And we figured we'd ask for forgiveness after the fact.

FRANK BLAKE: So with that success, $135,000 is a lot to raise, with that success, you say, let's do this again?

TRAVIS ELLIS: We did. We considered it successful, so we kind of felt obligated to do it again.

And so the next year, we came up with a plan that we wanted to start in New York at the 9/11 Memorial.

So we started at a firehouse at 124 Liberty Street. It was a tent house right there adjacent to the 9/11 Memorial.

And over the course of eight days, I ran back to Atlanta, and the second year, we added weight.

So we put flak jackets on and carried 22 pounds of ballistic body armor in the vests.

And at the time, that represented kind of the suicide statistic that DOD released in 2012.

FRANK BLAKE: So how many people did it the second year?

Are you snowballing with participants or participants pulling away?

TRAVIS ELLIS: Well, the second year we had the same group of guys.

We only lost one, and that's because he moved out of the country, still in the Marine Corps, but had the same group of guys, probably added another two that kind of transitioned into their unit and then also added a SHARE graduate.

And so now we had a graduate out there with us and he was running and telling his own personal journey and just the story of SHARE.

FRANK BLAKE: And so you've been doing this now for how long?

TRAVIS ELLIS: Since 2014. So going on a decade.

FRANK BLAKE: All right. And what's the path?

I mean, you said you've raised $8 million, so I assume this is growing every year?

TRAVIS ELLIS: It is growing every year.

We've been able to do things outside of just destroying our bodies, which is good because I'm not sure we could have sustained the tempo that we established early on.

We've been able to meet people of celebrity status who have lent their time, talent, and treasure to our calls.

The late Charlie Daniels would come to Atlanta a couple of times a year and we would do a private concert in someone's home.

Chris Young, who is a well-known country artist now is doing the same thing.

Folks in various regions learned of our calls and they wanted to find the ways to support - distilleries with bottled bourbon, breweries, beer.

People in regions where we had no direct connection would reach out and say, hey, would you come be a part of an event?

And I think the one thing that's allowed us to be successful is the honesty and sincerity in the mission.

It's not about any of us, it's about SHARE and it's about the men and women who receive care at SHARE, and more importantly, those who need this type of care.

FRANK BLAKE: I'm just curious why... I mean, there are lots of different ways of raising money.

Why did you choose to do something so physically grueling and does that connect with something that's important from your perspective?

TRAVIS ELLIS: I mean, I think if anything, you want to challenge yourself and anybody can go knock on doors and raise dollars, but how are we going to challenge ourselves?

And so that's kind of what we did.

And in it, the training for some of these events I think was far worse than the event itself.

In 2017, we started from the Flight 93 crash site in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

We put 93 pounds in rucksacks and we marched back to Atlanta.

Now, training up for that event was miserable. The event itself was miserable, but everybody's miserable together.

And I think through that you form a bond.

FRANK BLAKE: Bonding through shared pain and suffering.

TRAVIS ELLIS: Absolutely.

And I think it strengthens you from a character standpoint and just from a will standpoint.

I'm not going to fail because if I fail, I let my buddy down.

And so I think it galvanized us. The misery galvanized us.

FRANK BLAKE: So tell us about the people who volunteer for these fundraisers.

What do they like? What do you think is motivating them?

What are some of the stories around them?

TRAVIS ELLIS: Early on, it was mostly active-duty Marines, soldiers, sailors, and I think it would've been folks who were already enjoyed pushing themselves physically, were in a military job that required them to do that.

Were probably in the top 1 to 2% of their peer group in terms of physical aptitude.

And you got to have a little bit of... We like to call our effort somewhat diabolical, and you had to have a little bit of internal psychoticness to be able to carry out these events.

But it was just some of the things that we were able to see, do, draw inspiration from, and to have clients come out and graduates come out and do these events with you.

In 2016, we had the grand idea on February 26, we were going to leave the North Church in Boston and run to Atlanta.

All right, so anyone who's been to Boston in February knows it's bitter cold, and probably the timing wasn't most ideal, but we did it.

And that day, that morning in the North Church, we had a gentleman and his family join us. His name was Jorge Rodriguez.

Jorge was a corpsman in the Navy. At the time, they were living in Groton, Connecticut.

Jorge did two deployments in Iraq, suffered a bad traumatic brain injury in Iraq during his final deployment.

Jorge was struggling with just performing the basic physical functions of life. He couldn't walk, he couldn't run.

His only method of mobility was shuffling his feet. He had lost his ability to communicate.

He could not enunciate words. He had two beautiful little girls and he couldn't tell them, "I love you."

He couldn't sing a song to them, anything.

He stuttered and he was almost non-verbal. He was having reoccurring seizures.

He wasn't getting the help he needed through traditional healthcare.

And he had made a decision and he told his wife, I'm ready to go.

And Jorge, his wife, Jessica, one morning woke and Jorge wasn't in bed, and frantically she went through the house and the interior door to the garage was open and her husband sat there with a .45 in his mouth.

And here was a human being who had done and given so much to our country and so much was taken from him, his ability to be a loving husband, to be a father, a functional father, and all that was being deprived of him.

And so he was, as he would tell you, a shell of a human being at the time and just made a decision to not be any longer.

And thankfully, Jessica woke and through a case manager nurse, they learned of SHARE.

And Jorge came to SHARE and he was at SHARE for 16 to 20 weeks himself.

And that February day in Boston, he and his family came out to the North Church.

And not only was Jorge talking to our group, he was walking, but the first three miles of our run in Boston, he joined us, not necessarily running but shuffling, walking when it required you to walk.

But he was there, he was present, he was living, and he was just such a strong inspiration for his two girls who were there watching him that day.

And Gary's story, Jorge's story, they're just but a couple of the success stories this program produces, and his girls are the beneficiaries of just the care that SHARE rendered upon Jorge.

And that's why we do it. No other reason.


TRAVIS ELLIS: The dollars will come organically.

It's about the dudes not the dollars is what I would say.

FRANK BLAKE: That is powerful.

What are some of the things that you think people should understand better about PTSD and traumatic brain injuries and mental health?

TRAVIS ELLIS: I think mental health is certainly something we try to sweep under the mat here in our country.

Everybody is struggling with something, but in this veteran population, just oftentimes these injuries are unseen and it's causing symptoms that allows a person not to behave in a manner that they typically would, whether it be that person is angry or depressed or isolating or whatever that may be.

I mean, these individuals, and if anybody watches this and you're struggling with some of these things, you're not a pariah, you're not a misfit, you're hurt.

And what happens when you get hurt generally, you figure out a way to become well.

If I cut my hand, I'm going to clean the wound, bandage it and take care of it so it gets well.

I mean, when you have one of these neurological injuries, they're no different.

We got to figure out a way to get this population well and we're not doing a good job. We're failing.

And the systems that were stood up and created to care for this community, I believe are failing this community on a daily basis because the bureaucracy of government gets in the way.

And that's my own soapbox, but I've heard too many stories of the systematic failures.

Where I haven't seen these failures is at SHARE. Private enterprise winning the day, seeing a need and meeting that need.

FRANK BLAKE: And as the effort grows, what do you think is the next step for SHARE?

TRAVIS ELLIS: So for us, I think we'd love to see SHARE continue to grow.

We'd love to see SHARE add another team of clinicians to be able to expand the program beyond its current capacity.

We would love to see that the VA Healthcare system refer the population to private programs like SHARE.

FRANK BLAKE: That doesn't happen now?

TRAVIS ELLIS: It's not happening.

Since SHARE has been stood up, there has not been one direct referral from a patient within the VA system to Shepherd Center. Not one.

FRANK BLAKE: I'm stunned. I've got to say, I didn't realize that. I'm stunned by that.

Is that a government regulation? Is that a regulatory hurdle or what?

TRAVIS ELLIS: It shouldn't be because the legislation is there.

All you have to do is comply with the legislation. I think perhaps it's the mindset that we can do it better, or if we refer you to an outside source, it's an admission of failure, or perhaps it's economically driven.

We don't want to lose these dollars that we may receive if you're in-house as a person receiving care.

I'm not sure what the rationale or reasoning is.

We've been to Washington multiple times and we're trying to move the meter as it relates to this part of our mission.

And I think long-term success would see that the VA organizations like Shepherd Center and SHARE are working collaboratively.

At the end of the day, it's about the best outcome for the patient. And if they could work in unison, in partnership, and truly put the patient's needs first, everybody wins.

But unfortunately, that hasn't happened.

And until that does, we'll continue to go out there and tell this story and attempt to fund the program, help fund it, grow it, and not stop until hopefully we don't have to do this any longer.

FRANK BLAKE: Well done. You're making an enormous difference.

Another question of curiosity. What's the toughest one of these physical challenges that you've taken on?

TRAVIS ELLIS: I would think the 93 pounds. I mean, that's a lot.

And doing that for consecutive days, that requires probably more in the way of mental toughness and physical toughness, just because there's no way to make that weight lighter.

And that one broke a lot of people. The running, you can stop for a moment on the side of the road, have some water, have some Gatorade, whatever you need.

But that doesn't matter how much water or Gatorade you drink, that weight doesn't get any lighter.


TRAVIS ELLIS: So that one was the struggle, and people still curse me to this day for that crazy idea.

FRANK BLAKE: Before we started this episode, I mentioned that a good friend of mine and yours had emailed me saying that he was so thrilled you're going to be on the podcast because you're such a great person.

And you said you had an interesting story about him as a volunteer.

TRAVIS ELLIS: We were blessed to meet Joe DeAngelo, and obviously you know Joe through your days at Home Depot and GE.

And Joe is a remarkable patriot. He loves this country and those that serve her.

And he is such a selfless human being.

So when we initially met Joe, Joe mentioned that he wanted to go out and do one of these events with us.

So we were, at this time, we were staged all over Georgia.

Some of us were in North Georgia, running through the mountains of North Georgia at Camp Currahee in Chacoa, running the mountains there.

And there was a group in Norcross and their run started at Stone Mountain.

So they had to run up Stone Mountain, run back down, and then run another probably 14, 15 miles.

FRANK BLAKE: Wow, wow.

TRAVIS ELLIS: So Joe was in that group, and I remember we were in a different community and someone was presenting us maybe with a check or something like that.

And I get a text message from a First Sergeant who was in our great Marine Corps, First Sergeant Walt Marks.

And his message simply reads, "Oh, my God, we killed Joe."

So I'm like, "Holy moly, what in the world's going on?"

And obviously I think Joe got dehydrated and all hands were on deck.

Thankfully we had a medic there with him, so make sure we could get him some liquid and whatnot.

But just the nature of that message, we killed Joe.

You can imagine where my mind went. Our biggest donor was just-

FRANK BLAKE: He doesn't leave anything on the field, that's for sure.

TRAVIS ELLIS: Absolutely.

But just a remarkable man and just one of the truest, pure leaders that I've had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know.

FRANK BLAKE: Well, he would say the same about you.

I ask everybody that we have on Crazy Good Turns the following question, so in your life, not necessarily connected with SHARE or Shepard Center, just in your life, who's done a crazy good turn for you?

TRAVIS ELLIS: My grandfather, Charles Burnett.

My father died when I was 10 years old, at that time, didn't have a strong relationship with him.

My mother was raising me as a single mom, doing the best she could.

And my grandfather stepped in to become virtually the sole paternal figure in my life.

Every day of my life, from kindergarten through 10th grade, he picked me up, he took me to school, he talked to me.

He told me how to be a man. He told me about being responsible, and just…

I would tell anyone that it would be as easy for me to be in jail or dead, if not for this man.

This man was a state golf champion, I believe two years in a row in Georgia, had a chance to go play golf collegiately at LSU, chose to move to Long Beach, California, to work in a shipyard to help support his mother, father, and 11 siblings.

The war started, joined the Navy and joined the Merchant Marine.

After his time in service, stayed in California for a bit, played golf on Saturday mornings with Walt Disney and an actor named Victor Mature, was offered a job by Walt Disney, turned Walt Disney down, came back to Georgia, married my grandmother, and was present for me during those formative years.

And I would not be here without him.

I would not be the type of man I am without him.

And we all have heroes. And that was mine and truly a remarkable man who was the embodiment of selflessness.

FRANK BLAKE: That's amazing. That's terrific, Travis.

So if someone listening to this, and I hope it's nearly everyone wants to get involved with Shepherd's Men, what should they do?

TRAVIS ELLIS: Yeah, reach out to is our website.

You can find us on all social channels. We'd love to have you a part of this cause.

And I think more importantly, if there's somebody who watches this, who is struggling and you feel that perhaps you don't matter, I'm here to tell you, you do.

I'm here to tell you that there's people that care about you, people that love you, and people would do anything and everything to lift you up and try to pull you out of whatever pit you find yourself mired in.

So just allow someone to help you. Things are never as bad as they seem or good as they seem.

And just know that there's a program that can help you.

There are people that can help you get there. And you matter. You matter a lot.

FRANK BLAKE: Thank you, Travis. And thank you for the crazy good turns you do every day for our veterans and beyond.

So thanks very much.

TRAVIS ELLIS: Thank you so much, Frank. It's been my pleasure.

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