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Operation Open Water moved to land for this year’s Honor Challenge

Co-founders Kyle Kelly and Danny Nichols manage the stair exercise during Operation Open Water 9/11 Honor Challenge.
Co-founders Kyle Kelly, left and Danny Nichols manage the stair exercise during Operation Open Water 9/11 Honor Challenge held Saturday at Sheue Field.
(Susan Hoffman)

Although the organization traditionally holds its special events on the beach, Operation Open Water’s second annual 9/11 Honor Challenge took place on Sheue Field at Huntington Beach High School last Saturday due to a conflict with the Surf City Marathon.

Operation Open Water was created to help active military, veterans and first responders grow stronger mentally and physically by building fellowship through sharing ocean themed adventures. The grassroots non-profit organization headquartered in Huntington Beach was founded in 2020 by a soldier and a surfer — Kyle Kelly, a retired US Army veteran and Danny Nichols, a former pro surfer.

Tom McDaniel with flags cheers on co-founder Kyle Kelly, left and co-founder Danny Nichols holding a plank pose.
Tom McDaniel with flags cheers on co-founder Kyle Kelly, left and co-founder Danny Nichols holding a plank pose during Operation Open Water 9/11 Honor Challenge held Saturday at Huntington Beach High’s Sheue Field.
(Susan Hoffman)

Originally from Texas, Kelly, who now lives in Oceano, Calif., lost his right leg below the knee following a roadside bombing in Iraq. He met Nichols during a veterans’ surf event where the two men connected.

Nichols, a resident of Huntington Beach, is a businessman with a desire for service. He said the organization was established so they could help warriors rejuvenate and find peace.

John Sisco, left, Kyle Kelly, Jordan Sisco, Danny Nichols and Doug Davis complete laps during Operation Open Water challenge.
From left, John Sisco, Kyle Kelly, Jordan Sisco, Danny Nichols and Doug Davis complete laps during Operation Open Water 9/11 Honor Challenge held Saturday.
(Susan Hoffman)

“Operation Open Water 9/11 challenge is about bringing the community together to never forget the attacks from 9/11.” said Nichols. “It’s an opportunity to fuel mind and raise spirits and honor those who lost their lives [which] impacted all of us.”

The community was invited to participate or cheer on the veterans, first responders and community members to take on six physical challenges to honor the 2,977 lives lost on 9/11/2001. The challenges included:

•60 burpees for the law enforcement and port authority officers,

•44 push-ups for the passengers on United Flight 93,

• 189 seconds of planking for those who perished at the Pentagon,

•110 flights of stairs for the World Trade Center,

• 343-yard firehouse drag for the firefighters and emergency medical services personnel,

• 2,763-yard run for those who perished in the World Trade Center.

Participants drag fire hoses across field as part of the Operation Open Water Honor Challenge.
Participants drag fire hoses across field as part of the Operation Open Water Honor Challenge held Saturday at Sheue Field.
(Susan Hoffman)

Kelly, an amputee who has medical retirement from the Army, participated in the workout stations during Saturday’s challenge even though his training schedule had recently been on pause. The once single dad of a 14-year-old daughter, explained that since the birth of his new baby two months ago he hasn’t had time to devote to his active exercise program.

“I’m normally very active four to five days a week, cardio, surf in the afternoon and weight training,” said Kelly. “For me and others who have found themselves struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety a regular fitness routine can give a positive impact on mental health.”

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