Hiking for Heroes: A San Antonio Teen’s Inspirational Journey for Veterans
Last Updated: 09 Jan 2024
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In a time when the entertainment possibilities of summer vacation are nearly limitless for teenagers, San Antonio high school athlete Ryan Matson chose a path less traveled: lacing up his hiking boots to embark on the iconic Camino de Santiago—a pilgrimage that spans the breathtaking landscapes of Spain. What sets this journey apart is not just the miles covered or the picturesque views encountered, but the noble cause that propelled Ryan towards the trip: to raise funds for veterans in need.
Ryan Matson does not come from a military family, but his parents nonetheless instilled in him a deep respect and gratitude for the people who risk so much for our nation’s freedoms. “I’m so grateful to live in this amazing country,” he shared with us, “and I’ve grown up believing in serving my country and loving everyone who shares that commitment.”
He also credits two of his mentors, retired Lieutenant General Robert Clark, and his baseball coach, an Air Force veteran, for guiding him toward his higher education and career goals.
Ryan has long known he wants to serve in the military himself (he is currently applying to both the United States Military Academy and the Air Force Academy) and strives to honor service members in the community.
For his Eagle Scout Project, Ryan built a memorial in Shavano Park for veterans killed in action.
This past summer, he wanted to take that mission a step further and decided to hike the Camino not only as a way to honor veterans but to support them.
The 500-mile hiking trail dates back to medieval origins where people of all backgrounds journey to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in the northwest of Spain. For some, the pilgrimage remains a spiritual experience. For others, it’s a personal challenge of fitness, and a chance to encounter fellow hikers from around the world.
Nearly 35,000 trekkers complete the Camino each year.
One of them – Ryan – raised over $1,500 for veterans.
While planning and training for the pilgrimage, Ryan selected Endeavors, the second-largest veteran services organization in Texas, to raise money for.
As a San Antonio native, Ryan was familiar with Endeavors’ mission to improve the lives of veterans in crisis, and to honor the veterans whose stories he carried with him. Documenting his trip publicly was his way of sharing the stories that make a difference. “I’m trying my best to raise awareness and to try and help,” he said.
Ryan documented his trip along El Camino by sharing photos and videos on social media reflecting on his experiences meeting people worldwide and encountering some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe. Hiking the Camino de Santiago is no easy feat.
The journey spans over 20 days, covering roughly 500 miles. Ryan trained for months, carrying a backpack while walking on an incline treadmill at the gym. When the time came to hit the trails, his entire family joined him in support, helping to document the trip and spread the word about his fundraising effort. “It’s not supposed to be a relaxing trip in any way,” he said. But the fun, for him, was encountering people from all over the world with different lived experiences.
Along the way, Ryan leveraged his platform to highlight the challenges that veterans at home face, including homelessness, PTSD, and social isolation. Ryan encouraged his followers to join his mission to support veterans by donating to Endeavors. To foster a collective understanding of the sacrifices and challenges faced by those who have served in the military, Ryan also shared information about specific Endeavors programs that provide housing, job support, and mental health care for veterans.
In less than a month, Ryan’s advocacy and story-sharing raised over $1,500 for the veterans that Endeavors serves. The funds raised went directly towards providing life-saving mental health care, housing support, and behavioral health services for San Antonio heroes in need. In gratitude for his volunteerism, advocacy, and fundraising, Endeavors honored Ryan at its annual employee awards ceremony this past fall.
For now, Ryan’s main goal is to keep the conversation around veteran services going in his community. He continues to share his story and the stories of local veterans across social and print media. “I’m still trying to keep the ball rolling and trying to raise as much awareness as I can in any way,” he said. You can contribute to Ryan’s fundraiser and support the veterans served by Endeavors by giving on Ryan’s fundraiser page.
About Endeavors Endeavors is a longstanding national non-profit that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Endeavors serves vulnerable people in crisis through innovative personalized services. For more information, please visit endeavors.org.