FORT WORTH, Texas — Brandt McCartney is a recent TCU business school grad whose world changed forever almost exactly 18 months ago. But instead of miring himself in the overwhelming grief that comes with losing a mentor and hero, he is honoring his older brother by keeping others from possibly losing theirs.
"The way I deal with grief is through honoring my brother," the 22-year-old said at the TCU football stadium earlier this week. His brother Matt Brewer, 10 years his senior, took his own life February of last year.
"Matt never talked about his demons and I never asked him about it," he said. "When I talk about it, when I talk about him, I feel those chills. I have them right now. I feel that fire. I feel that proud little brother."
Matt Brewer, was a tenacious Navy football player: a linebacker and blocking back. He was also a champion heavyweight Navy boxer. As a Marine, he served overseas in heavy artillery units. Then, as a civilian and transitioning to the life of a firefighter, his brother says Brewer may have become somewhat lost when the structure of his military career was over.
"I think for him and for a lot of veterans, it's a storm, right? It's just not one thing," McCartney said of his brother he believes may have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and PTSD. "I don't blame myself. And I don't blame my brother. I blame the stigma in society. I blame the taboo of not talking about your feelings."
So a little brother wants more people to talk about it, and get the help they need.
He channeled his grief by starting his own non-profit. The 38 Challenge is designed as a 38-minute workout -- so intense, as his older brother would have loved, that you have to lean on and get encouraged by others to succeed. It's McCartney's analogy for tackling the veteran suicide epidemic too: the same group effort he thinks society should be making to fight the stigma of suicide.
"I think that suicide is due to the fact that people can't talk about the things that they're dealing with," he said. "They're fighting with themselves internally to a point where they lose. And our vision is to create a society where that's not even an option."
Saturday morning, starting at 9am, hundreds are expected to fill the stadium floor at TCU for the 38-minute intense workout, inspirational messages by north Texas veteran assistance organizations like The One Tribe Foundation and Carry The Load, and the beginning of a conversation about suicide and the way society should be confronting it together.
And as they do, they will be led by a little brother with his hero's name on a bracelet and a tribute tattoo on his back. McCartney, even before his brother's death, had a crown of thorns with his brother's dog tags and a cross tattooed above his left shoulder blade.
"So, that's who my brother was to me," he said. "And I feel him most when I'm doing The 38 Challenge because I know that he'd be doing it right there, pushing me. And he's with me always."
Now, always motivating a little brother to save someone else.
You can find out more about The 38 Challenge here and how you can participate in or donate to the cause.