This is Veteran’s Day in the United States, and the newest Discovery star is Fred Lewis, a wounded war veteran who has reinvented himself more than once.
This new miner on the block is familiar to fans of spinoff series Gold Rush: Parker’s Trails for Discovery, serving as security and as a medic for Parker and his photographer Sam who traipse the less-than-safe locales all over the world in the lucrative chase for gold.
It appears Lewis, despite the continuing vocational setbacks of COVID, is poised to fill in the cast void left by Oregon miner Todd Hoffman who left the series in season 8 (2018) for other pursuits.
Fred is now part of Discovery’s number one series, and through trial and tribulation, he is a proper gold miner in his own right. Lewis has assembled a band of fellow disabled veterans, and to fund his efforts, he raised significant money from other veterans looking to invest.
Now, he is squarely in business.
Lewis is a former Green Beret Special Forces medic who served his country for 14 years. He was deployed to Africa, Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It was in Afghanistan that Lewis took a bullet to the helmet.
He has suffered physical disabilities since but has worked hard to recover as much as he can.
The former Green Beret-turned-high school wrestling coach — who has tried out twice for American Ninja Warrior — is all about moving forward, selecting these worthy people who have suffered injuries while serving their country along with him for the wild ride.
The veterans assembled to mine alongside him up in Sumpter, Oregon, are also wounded-war veterans. As seen in the Gold Rush premiere, they are hot on a gold vein chase and are enthusiastic.
They are hell-bent on making their dreams of self-sufficiency, finding gold, and helping each other for the win this new season.
Hired to help rake in the riches is Kendell Madden (who we learned in the first episode this season has a Freddy Dodge connection), who had previously served in the Air Force.
Also joining Lewis is former infantry sniper-turned bodybuilder Stuart McKenzie, who lost a hand in combat and had it reattached. Stuart is now a bodybuilder.
Also part of the Lewis crew is Khara Lewis — Fred’s wife — a former psyops specialist.
Kendell Madden is a former U.S. Air Force Special Operations LOAD MASTER, injured in an MC130P combat shadow flying accident, and who coincidentally is Freddy Dodge’s nephew.
Add to the mix, Stuart McKenzie, a Purple heart recipient and former U.S. army infantry SCOUT sniper who lost his hand — blown off by a roadside bomb – later reattached.
And former U.S. Army Special Forces Stefan Generally, who is the recipient of one purple heart. He served 26 years with 12 deployments.
Rounding out the group are John “Johnny” Stanz, who lives with a brain injury and received two purple hearts. The medically retired marine Raider was in a coma after a roadside bomb and given a zero percent chance of recovery.
Kyle Pletzke is former U.S. Army infantry, also combat-injured, his pelvis shattered amongst other broken bones, in a rollover accident in Afghanistan.
Monsters & Critics spoke to Fred Lewis ahead of Friday’s episode, and it’s the interview you need to read:
Monsters & Critics: I think most people are familiar with you from the spinoff series Parker’s Trails. The big question is, how did you cross paths with Parker Schnabel?
Fred Lewis: Well, I was hired on that job as medic and security for the team because they were going into Papua, New Guinea, and they wanted to have a little extra beef. And, we just hit it off after that.
M&C: You’re part of the band now.
Fred Lewis: Yes! Yup. [Laughs]
M&C: Before COVID, you were going to join Parker’s crew, but then you weren’t able to get to him. Is this correct?
Fred Lewis: Yes. The border of Canada closed right away when COVID first hit. And, right when the shutdown happened, they were only allowing essentials through the border. And Parker had to prioritize the guys that he needed the most to run the operation.
I was the least experienced. So obviously, I go the short end of the stick as they kept extending that closure, and it had gotten to the point where I was like, well, I’m either going to be sitting here doing nothing, unemployed again, or do something for myself.
M&C: How did you get the beat on where to go in Oregon? You’re from Washington, correct?
Fred Lewis: Yes. So what I did was once I realized that was probably going to be hung out to dry on going up to Canada, I started doing research, kind of like we do in the military when you’re trying to map out and figure out your next moves.
M&C: Gold Rush cast member Freddy Dodge’s nephew Kendall is your right arm. How did you two connect?
Fred Lewis: The same adaptive sports games. We competed at the warrior games together. So we’ve, we’ve been training together for years. It’s this weird coincidence.
I didn’t know. He was Freddy Dodge’s nephew until I met with Freddy Dodge on [TV recap series] The Dirt. And we were talking, and he knew somebody from where I knew.
And then eventually I was like, wait a minute…Is Kendall your nephew? And he’s like, ‘yeah.’ And that’s how I kind of figured it out.
M&C: That is a crazy coincidence. You wanted to put together a group of men like yourself; they’ve been injured, they’ve been through what you’ve been through. Why did you want to have war seasoned veterans with you on your crew?
Fred Lewis: I went through a pretty tough transition when I got out. I went from being active-duty in combat to disabled-and-unemployed. And that’s a pretty tough transition.
It’s kind of like if you’re a brain surgeon and you lose your eyesight, there’s not much more a brain surgeon can do with those skills.
So, you know, being a sniper and a combat medic after you get out, it’s not like you just hit the reset button. So, that trouble I went through led me eventually to adaptive sports, to working out with wounded warriors together.
And that gave me a lot of confidence. And then I went on to do [TV series] American Ninja Warrior, and it just felt like the bar was getting raised every time I pushed myself a little further.
So I knew that was also inside of every veteran and having the ability to overcome an obstacle. Like for example, one of my guys, Johnny [Stanz], was actually blown in a roadside bomb and was in a coma for almost a month, I believe.
And he was given no chance to live, and a zero percent chance to open his eyes even, and now the guy is mining gold.
If you take somebody that has overcome something like that and put them on a team, that is something that’s really hard to replicate in the civilian world and give them the same challenges.
That environment is so good for us that I just knew it was a recipe for success.
I mean, if you tell me that these seven guys that are on my team now, we were all kind of struggling in our own way, and COVID was kind of making everyone’s plans hard…. and they didn’t really have a purpose, but now they’ve got a purpose.
I think that is the most powerful thing about what we are trying to do. It’s like we’re reinventing ourselves and gold mining is just the perfect fit.
M&C: Did your practical experiences as a medic come in handy during that scare with Johnny and just being able to actually manage situations like that with any of your guys.
Fred Lewis: When I put this team together, and I selected my people, and five out of the seven are combat disabled veterans… I knew that we like to look at ourselves as being able to overcome anything.
But there’s always going to be issues like Johnny Stanz. Johnny has got balanced issues. He’s had a severe brain injury, so he’s still trying to overcome those obstacles. And there’s a balancing act between trying to push somebody to [gold] mine, which is very strenuous, and to also try and get them to be in a position where they can heal from this experience and not get worse.
And as a medic, I just have to pay attention to my guys, know what their injuries are, and put them in positions that are going to best fit them, but not challenge them too much.
We are all disabled on this team. So we all understand that we all have issues, and that kind of helps us too, because we understand that some days aren’t going to be good, some days are going to be horrible, and some days are going to be fantastic.
I think having that, that tight-knit group of people that understand where we are all coming from, has really helped us to come together as a team and to really kick this thing in the teeth.
M&C: What’s your relationship with Parker Schnabel right now? Are you friendly adversaries because you’re both competing for gold tallies, or are you really deeply close friends?
Fred Lewis: Parker and I are still really close. We’re always going to be good friends. We are both very competitive, but right now, for me to call him out is more of a funny challenge because he knows he’s obviously got way more capacity than me.
But that doesn’t mean that in the future, it might get a little more competitive. Yes, we’ll be friends forever. We’re real friends. Like people want to wonder if we’re actually friends. That’s a real friendship that developed.
M&C: Will we see you on the next Parker’s Trails?
Fred Lewis: Oh, yes, I’m not going anywhere. As long as Parker’s Trail is good to go. As we know with COVID, there’s been a lot of changes in the TV world because we can’t get access to a lot of the places we want access to.
So, we don’t know where it’s going, but I’m there.
M&C: Other than the obvious glee of finding actual gold, what’s the most exciting or fun thing about gold mining that you’ve discovered. And what’s the most tedious thing?
Fred Lewis: The most beneficial thing about it is just being there, having that common goal, working together, struggling together, and winning together. That to me… There’s no other job I’ve found in the civilian world where everybody cares about everybody.
I think that’s something that, [working] on a [gold] mine, you have to care about everybody because you just work together constantly.
The most challenging thing that I’ve found, that’s easy. That’s the government.
There are so many small little parts in gold mining that lot of people don’t understand, dealing with a government on your water rights. That’s something everybody knows, those who watch Gold Rush,
But there’s so much more. I have to basically talk to the department of geology. I’ve got to talk to officials for safety and the state troopers and the forestry department.
It’s a constant struggle to make sure you’re not doing the wrong thing because once you do the wrong thing, you’ve already done it.
And we’re trying to set this up. We have a positive relationship with everybody and are basically walking on eggshells with the government the whole time; it’s quite a challenge.
M&C: What’s the easiest state to mine for the least amount of bureaucratic headaches like you just talked about? Is it Oregon, Washington? Is it Idaho? Or is it Canada?
Fred Lewis: I honestly don’t know the answer. I don’t know if there is a place where it’s easy to [gold] mine. I think they make it difficult for a reason. If they didn’t have regulations, most of the environment would be really poorly impacted.
So I think it’s one of those things, a double-edged sword, it makes it harder, but it also makes it better on the environment. I’ve heard stories that Nevada may be a little easier.
Oregon, I’ve heard, is one of the worst states to mine in because of this. But, obviously, California is also super hard. The Yukon does seem to be a little less of a pain than the United States, but I only know that from secondhand experience,
M&C: How did you get the money to lease the claim? How did you raise that much capital?
Fred Lewis: Well, with the finances, I stuck with the veteran community as well. I basically used every penny that we had in our savings and everything that we could turn into liquid assets to make the beginning part of the season happened.
And then I brought in investors from the military world and other… I’m not gonna give anything away, but it’s all been kept in the community.
We’re doing this basically a hundred percent veterans support or percent veteran run. And, I, kind of, want that message to be pure. I don’t want outside help. I want to do this and show that veterans can come together and make anything happen if they want.
So I’ve been trying to keep that through the entire time.
Gold Rush airs Fridays at 8/7c on the Discovery Channel.
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