Wow, about a year ago Craig Esposito and Ken Braband started up a Milwaukee chapter of Team River Runner. They began with pool sessions and learning about all of the adaptive equipment, while working primarily with vets who have suffered spinal injuries. I say wow, because this was the coolest event I have ever been a part of.
I got into whitewater kayaking by organizing events from the US Team Trials, to Riverfests, Freestyle Comps, training clinics, the list goes on. But this one takes the cake. With dozens of volunteers from safety to kayakers and others to help with transport, 6 vets were able to progress their experiences from the lake and pool sessions to the river at Wausau Whitewater Park last weekend.
I threw on my flippers and jumped in the water along with dozens of other volunteers. Craig and others helped lift many of these guys into and out of kayaks. At first, a few swims, and the safety crew jumped in to rescue. But as the day progressed, they were paddling through long stretches of class 2 whitewater like they had been doing this for years! Pete was in a wheelchair and the guys set him up in a kayak, with hardly any use of his legs,he successfully paddled down the stretch. If he swam, Desiree was waiting to grab him by his vest and swim him to the take out. None of them batted an eyelash to this. If I were in their situation I don’t think I could stay quite so calm in the water and trust strangers to swim me to shore, but they are so strong.
John paddled every one of them down the entire park in the Jackson Kayak Dynamic Duo. Including some class 3 drops. The smiles on their faces when they were done was so amazing! I don’t think I can really put into words the experience I had on the river that day, and I definitely can’t do justice to expressing the joy of the vets. But I made many new friends last weekend, Fred, who just wanted to push farther. He began to practice and perfect river running skills such as ferrying. He even wanted to kayak the Dam (a class 3 drop) his 2nd day on the river. Pete, who I often swam behind down the river just for fun (and in case he flipped). Terrance, Lisa, Lia, dan and others. Also, many of their families came out and tried it.
Channel 7 news came out to tell their story, and the reporter spent the entire day with us, not just reporting, but spending time talking to the vets and getting to know them. Check out the video!