It goes without saying that mixed martial artist and kick boxer Stephen Thompson is tough. After all, he’s defeated all the opponents he has faced in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
But Thompson knows who the really tough people are: The brave men and women who serve in the military. Which is why he began volunteering with A HERO (America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors), which provides wounded veterans with mentorship and camaraderie through outdoor activities. He also works to raise awareness about the disturbingly high rate of veterans committing suicide.
“Hanging out with these guys, they are true heroes,” Thompson told Fox Sports. “You see the UFC fighters and they are fighting on TV and these kids or teenagers thinking that we are the heroes, but we are not. These guys are the heroes. They’re out there doing things and putting their lives on the line for us. Being out there and listening to their stories, sometimes it breaks your heart, but it makes you realize the risks these guys take and they are out there doing it.”
As part of A HERO, Thompson and his manager recently accompanied a group of wounded veterans on a wilderness and hunting expedition in South Africa. A show about the trip will be broadcast on the Sportsman Chanel in July.
“When I first met some of these guys they kept to themselves,” Thompson said. “Some of them came straight from the hospital after physical therapy, and at first we were there for a week and we were hanging out and they were kind of to themselves. By the end of the trip we shared some stories, and that’s what we were there for to give them somebody to talk to and experience this, and now I feel like we’ll be life long friends. I still talk to these guys today.”
Thompson plans to continue to volunteer with A HERO and embark on another hunting expedition next year. “It’s one of these things where I get to give back to these guys, who have put their lives on the line to enable me, you and everybody what we’re able to do. Our freedom. It’s just a way of giving back.”