This past weekend I was again fortunate to help Craig Esposito with the TEam River Runner whitewater kayaking event at Wausau Whitewater Park. Craig helped found the first wisconsin TRR Chapter a few years ago and this was the 2nd year we held a weekend event for the injured vets and their families. We had many returners who have significantly improved their paddling skills as well as new vets and families with a great interest to continue in the sport.
Fred is just one of the handful of vets who has been pushing himself to excel at whitewater kayaking. He confidently runs class 2 whitewater and is nearing the time to push his skills to class 3. Fred, like many of the vets, is part of the MIlwaukee VA and deals with injuries related to the spinal cord. This is because the VA Hospital in Milwaukee specializes in treating spinal cord injuries. Pete and Terrance are also part of the group of regulars who participate in the weekly wednesday flatwater sessions in the Milwaukee area and traveled to Wausau for the whitewater action for their 2nd year in a row.
These men are fearless and while everyday life on land requires assistance for their injuries from either wheelchairs or walkers, they are able to kayak just like anyone else without these injuries. Fred even completed his first Class II River Run on Section 3 of the Wolf River Earlier this year! I was excited to return this year because I felt this was by far the best experience of my kayaking career last season and when I arrived, pete who has no use of his legs, called me his angel because if he swam out of the inflatable kayak last summer, I was right there with my boogie board and flippers to swim him safely to shore. To know that this man had that much trust and faith in me, someone who last year was a complete stranger to him, meant the world.
I was also very excited upon arriving this summer because there was even more help from volunteers than last year! Area lifeguards participated in swiftwater rescue training last weekend so they could assist with the TRR event. This freed up more experienced paddlers like myself to work on skills with some of the vets and their families. I spent the first few hours of the day giving Stacey, her first kayak lesson on the flatwater and class 1 whitewater below the regular park. She had a slight fear of moving water but learned quickly. Sweep and forward paddling strokes were now natural movements for her, she could enter and exit the current from the eddy with ease and she was beginning to learn ferries.
The even greater part about her and her family was that her husband Jimmy is the local army recruiter and will be a great resource in the future. Both her and Jimmy plan to return to the park at regular rec releases for more instruction and their 4 year old son Liam even rode down the entire channel in the front of a Dynamic Duo with John McConville. I was so excited to see a boy so young with such an adventurist spirit. Running Class 3 Rapids as a 4 year old in a Duo is a big deal, and john got footage of his every reaction on the GoPro Hero 3!
I could go on and on about this event. I will share a few links here of the local news stories with interviews from many of the vets that attended. Also, stay tuned for more video postings in the weeks to come as those who volunteered and participated arrive home and share their own footage from the weekend.