Yorkville resident and retired veteran Traci Kroupa, along with nine others from the United States and Canada, will compete on The Outdoor Channel’s new series “The Brigade: Race to the Hudson,” an experience that took her across Canadian rivers, through forests and over mountains.
According to a press release issued by Outdoor Sportsman Group, “The Brigade: Race to the Hudson,” is an “adventure-filled expedition ... a dangerous paddling odyssey unlike any other.” The 10 participants in the “brigade,” will work together to make their way through whitewater rapids and mountainous terrain and fish and hunt for food, without fuel, maps, or GPS, to make their way from the Pacific Coast to Hudson Bay, ending up at the York Factory Express, a 19th-century fur brigade.
Contestants have 28 days to reach their destination. The show features no reward challenges or eliminations, meaning that the only way to leave the show is to quit or be medically evacuated. The grand prize of $500,000 will be split among the competitors who make it to the end.
Kroupa, 48, first heard about the show from a paddler that she follows on Twitter. “I’ve done a couple trips down the Mississippi River myself, so I looked it up and I saw it, and I thought, ‘Well, this is pretty interesting,’ “ she said. “So I thought I’ll give it a shot. My family was pretty supportive. ... it turned out great.”
A 22-year veteran of the Navy and the Army National Guard, Kroupa also served as a police officer, surgical assistant and death investigator before settling in her current position as an outdoor education instructor. As stated in her “Brigade” biography, “Backpacking, hiking, paddling and rock climbing across the United States and abroad inspired Traci’s newfound zest for life.”
With experience in paddling, backpacking and hiking, Kroupa said that she felt prepared for the experience, but had never combined the skills. “I’ve done portions of backpacking in the back country, I’ve done 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, I’ve been backpacking 11,000 feet above the tree line when the lightning’s hitting. ... I have the experience, but nothing to the magnitude of not even having a trail,” she said.
“I had a lot of experience in different areas, but nothing to that magnitude.”
In July 2018, Kroupa made her way to Canada, meeting her fellow brigaders for the first time – competitors weren’t told anything about each other beforehand, she said.
“I just didn’t know exactly what we were getting into,” she said. “We don’t even know who is on the trip, we don’t know what everyone’s capabilities are. ... all I know is that I can take whatever skill set I have in my toolbag with me, and hopefully that’s enough, and if it’s something I don’t know, then I can feed off of somebody else and hopefully they have the expertise.”
Thanks to her military experience, spending 28 days in the wilderness with nine strangers didn’t faze Kroupa. “For me being military background, you spend so many years with people you don’t know ... I wasn’t really scared about that, I wasn’t worried about it,” she said. “I figured that if I was chosen for my abilities, then the other nine people were chosen for their abilities. Everyone is going to come into it with their own personality, and as long as we can work together, it will turn out good.”
Her biggest takeaway from the trip, was “digging into myself more and being, like, ‘How far can I push myself?’ “ she said.
“I really went into it wanting to enjoy it as much as possible. We had a time limit, and we had a certain amount of things we had to do in a short amount of time, so I wanted for me to experience as much as possible and enjoy it as much as possible.”
“I encourage anyone who wants to challenge themselves, because you don’t know what your limitations are until you do it,” she added.
Kroupa also wanted her experience on “The Brigade” to send a message, especially to her fellow veterans. Between her time in active duty and reserve duty, she served almost 22 years, retiring in 2014.
“I came into the show as a veteran, and I’m very open and honest. ... I said, ‘Look, I’m not going to shy away from my story,’ “ she said. Producers encouraged her to embrace her time as a veteran on the show and talk about it freely. “. I’ve had quite a few concussions, I’ve got depression, I’ve got the anxiety, I’ve got the PTSD.
“It’s a daily struggle for me, and there are times where I don’t want to get off of the couch for a week. But I wanted to show veterans that if you ask for help, I’ve asked the VA for help, I went to the crisis line, I’m not afraid to say, ‘Pick up the phone and call for help’,” Kroupa, who has a service dog, said. The dog did not accompany her on the show, as she was given support and an avenue to speak to somebody if she felt the need.
“I also wanted to show that being out here on the show and putting that behind me, using it as my strength and not a weakness, going out there and showing that you can come out here and do this and you don’t have to be at the mercy of bottles of medication that the VA wants to give us or a victim of your depression or your anxiety,” Kroupa said.
“I found nature, I found the outdoors, and that’s what helped me through a majority of the issues I’ve had. Having this opportunity is just a large platform for me to push that out to veterans, like, ‘You can do this.’ And I hope that comes across.”