By Tony Diaz (‘21)
Loras alumna Dana O’Neill (‘12) recently started a nonprofit 501(c)(3), called Crux Wilderness Therapy, which is designed to take veterans out rock climbing, backpacking and hiking to help them transition back into civilian life. Based in San Diego, the program focuses on community and family involvement as veterans learn long-term sustainable strategies for mental and physical health by engaging in outdoor activities.
The idea of the program was sparked by the experiences of O’Neill’s and her boyfriend and business partner, Luke Stricevic. Stricevic is a Marine Corps veteran who O’Neill met in San Diego in 2016 as he was working through his own mental and physical wounds from the war. They began hiking on weekends and found that it helped him cope with his experiences.
This past year, Stricevik and O’Neill traveled up to Washington where Stricevic took courses to become a rock climbing guide. It was after he received his certification when the couple really started talking about what they wanted for themselves.
“We already had a construction business, but with Luke’s new certification and my background in social work, we started to hear more and more about recreational therapy, outdoor therapy, or wilderness therapy,” O’Neill explained. “I started doing some research and learned that there aren’t any programs in San Diego such as ours. San Diego has the 3rd largest population of veterans and there are over 30 military bases in California. I then decided this was what I wanted to do.”
O’Neill is hoping to add more sports and activities to their offerings in the future, but for now they are starting with hiking, climbing and backpacking to get things off the ground. Every experience is tailored to the individuals who sign up.
With Crux Wilderness Therapy, O’Neill and Stricevik want veterans to know that they can transition back to their home life, they can find jobs, spend time with their significant other, their kids, friends, or whatever their home and work life looks like, and still have an outlet to grasp their new normal.
“It was definitely new territory, but I have been so driven and motivated by our mission, I was happy to learn and grow in the experience,” O’Neill said.
Learn more about Crux Wilderness therapy at cruxwilderness.com