Florida's Python Challenge Gives Hope to Veterans

Florida's Python Challenge Gives Hope to Veterans

Chris Nelson
Chris Nelson
September 16, 2023

The winners of this year's Florida Python Challenge were awarded at a ceremony in Davie this week, but the Challenge is helping more than just to stop an invasive species.

"For me, winning the Python categories are less important than for me to promote the Swamp Apes and how we take veterans out to overcome challenges," said Tom Rahill, winner of the award for longest python removed in this year's hunt. "We use the weirdness and excitement of capturing pythons being in difficult conditions that the veterans are trained to deal with."

Rahill founded the Swamp Apes, to help veterans from all over the country, bringing them on the annual Florida Python Challenge. This year, 1,050 participants from 35 states and Belgium came to Florida and removed 209 Burmese pythons from South Florida during the 10-day competition created by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Burmese Pythons are an invasive species which pose a great threat to Florida’s ecology.

Rahill says participating in the Python Challenge can help veterans physical and emotional health.

"This works for veterans who really need the adventure," said Rahill. "The reality is when they come back from war, the VA gives does an evaluation.. physically and emotionally and they get assigned to go to therapy. We want to be that therapy."

Rahill said therapists even accompany their group in the field and he would like to see the Florida Python Challenge become a recognized therapy option for the Veterans Administration.

Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez
Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez

"This is the ultimate goal: To become a prescribable therapy option for the Veterans Administration so that a veteran that may not be comfortable in a building environment, be out in the field with us with a therapist, so when they start to talk about the issues they have they can open up and then have the therapist right there," said Rahill. "Then we can just move into the background and let them get that off their chest while they are doing something good for the environment."

Tom Aycock, who served in the Florida Army National Guard from 1983-2021, said python hunting has been a great way to spend his retirement. Aycock won the award for Most Pythons by a Military member after removing four pythons.

"It was a way after I got the boots off, put the snake boots on and go out in the Everglades and decompress," said Aycock. "Recreational therapy is great for everybody. While I was still in uniform I was out hunting pythons."

"We take guys in uniform," said Aycock about Swamp Apes, which he is part of. "We take veterans. We have Korean War veterans, we have Vietnam veterans we've got Gulf War, we've got Global War on Terrorism veterans we are taking out all the time on these python hunts."

Aycock says the Python Hunts are a great way for veterans to get outside and into the environment.

"It's fun and it gets them out of the house and gets them out of some mundane routine. Some of our guys have some issues," said Aycock. "It gets them out there into the environment, gets those endorphins flowing again. It's a real success story what we are able to do with some of these guys just by going out there and having a good time and jumping on some snakes."

Rahill said anyone interested in The Swamp Apes can email him at swampapes@gmail.com.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis picked up where former Gov. Rick Scott left off in efforts to combat the invasive animals that threaten Florida's precious ecosystems. Lt. Governor Jeanette Nunez (pictured) was in attendance and handed out the awards.

Related Posts

Chris Nelson

Chris Nelson

Chris Nelson is a videographer and investigative reporter based in Fort Lauderdale. Chris covers breaking news, and local and state politics, and focuses on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. His work has been cited on Fox News and Epoch Times.

Subscribe to the newsletter everyone in Florida is reading.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


More Related Posts