The 38 Challenge: A grieving family works to shatter the mental health stigma one warrior workout at a time

By Kendall Brewer | Technology Partners

As I begin my journey in the business world, the parallels I see between the corporate work ethic and my upbringing in a military family have struck me. What makes a successful leader? Hard work, clear routines, and an all-in attitude. We see the person who is always willing to go the extra mile, who sets an example of what we too are able to accomplish with a bit more dedication.

It is no wonder that many prominent business leaders started their journey by overcoming adversity, whether persevering through a professional setback, a daunting health prognosis, or even time in the armed forces. 

Brandt, Kendall, and Matthew.

My older brother, Matt, followed the footsteps of our family by serving in the Marine Corps after playing football as a linebacker at the Naval Academy. He never made excuses as he worked towards his goals, with the incredible strength of both body and mind. He was the man who read 20 books a year, just because he could. He called us every Sunday, without fail, because in his mind there was no work-week stressor that would stop him from prioritizing what mattered.

Most of all, it was this same drive that drove him into a deep pursuit of relationship with Christ. As I watched Matt navigate life, I swelled with pride.

This made the phone call I received on Feb. 19, 2021 even more shocking, when I learned that Matt had died by suicide. At the age of 31, he had the promise of a bright future ahead of him. We knew Matt was struggling in his adjustment to civilian life after seven years in the military, but did not realize the extent of this inner battle.

It was in the subsequent months that my family learned more about Chronic Traumatic Encepalopathy (CTE), as this term, along with “effects of suicide on family” and “Christianity” were the three most trafficked internet searches on the devices he left behind.

The Next “38 Challenge” is set for Aug. 6 at Lafayette High School in Wildwood, Mo.

As it turns out, both contact sport athletes and armed service members are at an increased risk for degenerative brain disease, as the repetitive head impacts sustained over their careers can lead to severe lifelong consequences.

What was previously known as “punch drunk” syndrome, seen mainly in boxers, has now become prevalent in numerous arenas where concussions occur. Individuals diagnosed with CTE see mood and behavior symptoms as early as their 20s, including impulse control problems, aggression, paranoia, depression, anxiety, with eventual short-term memory loss and dementia expected. 

The newfound understanding of Matt’s invisible wounds drove my family to spread awareness surrounding CTE and for my youngest brother to begin his own non-profit: “The 38 Challenge.” Within four months, Brandt sponsored his first event to fundraise on behalf of the research at The Concussion Legacy Foundation.

The warrior workout he mapped out, broken up into sets of 38 exercises, was designed to be difficult enough that participants need to lean on one another for support to complete it. His premise is simple: What it means to suffer looks different for every person, but underlying is our common need to have others with us throughout it. 

Kendall at a recent “The 38 Challenge” warrior workout.

We know that issues surrounding mental health touch every person’s life, so the mission, core purpose, and values of “The 38 Challenge” are universal. As a mental fitness advocate, Brandt fights to help others prioritize their emotional health, stress management, and self-care through leaning into vulnerability. Nevertheless, there is a unique population within our veteran and athletic communities that struggles to live with the unseen effects of brain impacts. This organization strives to say this: We see you, we hear you, and there are resources to help as you or loved ones navigate the prospect of CTE. 

Fast forward to the summer of 2022, and we are set to participate in our next “The 38 Challenge” event. During the first weekend of August, we will be together with family, friends, and other community members who want to shatter the mental health stigma together. 

Workout warriors unite for “The 38 Challenge” events across the country.

I look at all that has happened within this past year, and resonate with a concept that Speaker, Author, Personal Leadership Expert, and Philanthropist Dave Sanderson calls Post-Traumatic Growth Syndrome. In periods of turmoil, the potential for us to overcome and flourish abounds. Resiliency is a muscle that leads to us not only using adversity for our advantage, but in order to leave our mark on the world and bless others. 

This year, on what would have been the weekend of our older brother’s 33rd birthday, we will be on the football field where his athletic career began. Doing a track workout for 38 minutes won’t just leave us a bit stronger physically. It will leave us more compassionate, open, and honest with the people around us. 

Kendall Brewer is the Director of Leadership Programs for Technology Partners. A former education administrator and Harvard graduate, she oversee’s TPI’s TechLX, InspireCIO, and Hunter Muller Group programs and partnerships to enhance St. Louis technology leadership community.

Founded in 2021 in memory of Captain Matthew Brewer, a decorated Marine and Linebacker at the naval academy who tragically took his own life, The 38 Challenge is a nonprofit with the mission to eliminate Veteran suicide by shattering the mental health stigma in warrior culture through promoting and teaching vulnerability. The 38 Challenge is the only warrior workout to honor a soldier who took his own life due to his service rather than dying on the battlefield.

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