Combat-wounded Marine to sail around the world in Global Solo Challenge
Ronnie Simpson planned to wear the Marine uniform until retirement but a battlefield injury would end those dreams. Sailing would save his life.
The Atlanta native’s grandfather was a Marine and tank commander during World War II. Years later, he was a drill instructor and eventually, a cop. He also had an uncle who wore the uniform on the ground for the Vietnam War. “Growing up with these stories definitely inspired me but witnessing 9/11 during my junior year of high school is what pushed me to enlist,” Simpson said.
Before the terrorist attacks would change everything, he thought about being a race car driver. Always a daredevil, the high-octane adrenaline sports were always something he enjoyed.
“I just wasn't really that interested in college right out of high school and so when the beginning of the Iraq war started, I was a senior in high school. I didn't know what I was going to do after high school but the day the Iraq war started I talked to the recruiter for the first time,” Simpson shared. “I tested really well on the ASVAB and I got offered all these bonuses to go intel and I was like nope, I'm going to Marine Corps infantry.”
With hopes of liberating the people of Iraq from a tyrannical dictator, Simpson was on the ground within a year of graduating boot camp. Though he referred to it as an unwinnable war, the pride for what he and his platoon were able to accomplish remains undiminished.
Four months into battle, Simpson was injured and without the quick thinking of a fellow Marine – may not have made it.
He was on the gun of the Humvee when a blast shook the vehicle. The blast injury would not only cause a TBI but the power of the waves would force his tongue to fold back into his throat. The corpsman with him recognized what was happening and cleared his airway immediately, saving him.
The Marines headed into a fierce firefight and made their way back to Fallujah with Simpson's eyes bandaged and his body feeling the effects of the painkillers. They had no idea how extensive his injuries were.
“I remember telling my Staff Sgt. that I would be back and I’ll never forget him telling me that he thought my war was over,” he shared.
His vision and body had been hurt so badly Simpson knew he’d never be part of the infantry again, so he made the decision to get out. “The VA retired me at the very minimum rating they possibly legally could. I had holes in my left lung that required a half-long amputation and I was legally blind,” he said.
Not long after his injuries, Simpson lost his father. “I ended up in Texas, retired from the Marines at just under 21 years old, and in school. I was also racing motorcycles and race cars while making some pretty terrible life choices,” he said.
After a particularly harrowing motorcycle chase by the police, he knew he needed a change. Simpson dropped out of college and moved to California on a whim to try sailing. He fell in love. Simpson spent a decade perfecting his craft, sailing all over the world and learning everything he could about the sport. He also made a name for himself writing about it all, too.
Nine years later he would return to school and earn his undergrad in integrated multimedia. Simpson would also spend over a decade taking veterans sailing through the nonprofit US Patriot Sailing and his own nonprofit, Core Veterans. "I have been working hard to share the gifts that sailing has given me, with other veterans for a long time and to benefit others," he explained.
A few years ago, Simpson learned of the Global Solo Challenge. In July of 2022 he was offered the loan of a yacht by Whitall Stokes and jumped at the chance to compete immediately. “My race is on October 28 and before June 30, I have to have a 2000-mile solo qualifying setting sail done,” he explained. "Sparrow is an Open 50 class of racing yacht that was designed and built specifically for one person to be able to cross oceans or sail around the world. Sparrow has indeed raced around the world twice solo and has rounded Cape Horn a total of three times."
The Global Solo Challenge is a single-handed around the world sailing event with a unique format because boats will set off in successive departures starting from August 26, 2023, from A Coruña Spain according to the event website.
Simpson is sponsored by US Patriot Sailing and is still actively looking for more sponsors. Once he qualifies he’ll head to Europe to prepare for the world sailing event. When he reflects on his life, Marine Corps career-ending injury and struggles, Simpson is at peace.
“I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” he smiled. “Sailing saved my life.”
To learn more about Simpson's campaign you can click here.