Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Because Veterans Are the Best!"

Todd Munn (in red shirt, far right) greets wounded veterans
alongside the Connecticut River.
Thanks to Ralph Marche for the quote above - his reason for providing adaptive recreation for veterans at events around New England for no charge. I met Ralph yesterday at the first day of the Wounded Warrior Project in Hartford, CT - an event I attended to learn more about serving veterans and to experience another model for facilitating adaptive recreation events. WWP events are a powerful thank-you to those who have served our country.

Hosted by the Gaylord Hospital Sports Association and Disabled Sports USA, the organizers effortlessly solved one of the critical challenges of facilitating an event - perfect weather! Warm, dry and sunny weather is forecast for all three days, in which 26 veterans with permanent disabilities enjoy a free weekend of kayaking, cycling, rowing, fishing, and adventure programming. The event is being held at Riverside Park, a beautiful, accessible location and part of an extensive and impression rehabilitation of Hartford's riverside by Riverfront Recapture over the past 3 decades - a perfect setting for personal rehabilitation as well!

Ralph demonstrates a paddling adaptation designed for
people with quadriplegia and hemiplegia.
Ralph brought an array of kayaks to the event and some wonderful adaptations for paddle use and seating that I had never seen before, from a Minnesota-based outfit called Creating Ability. I hope to acquire some of their amazing products for our programs. Not a veteran himself, Ralph has been serving vets after they return home for years. He is the Chief of Voluntary and Recreation Services with VA Boston Healthcare and is a primary force with the New England Handicapped Sports Association which offers an array of programs for vets including an adaptive surfing program on Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. (Oh, the things you find out about in your own backyard when you step outside your state!) Thanks for all the good work you do Ralph!

Most of the veterans present are from Connecticut and Massachusetts, and I met two of them over at the rock climbing wall. Lisa Boudreau and Ernest Johnson III were part of a small group learning climbing techniques. Lisa had rappelled from helicopters while in the Army, but never climbed before, and tackled the wall with high spirits. EJ, who recently served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, made the climb look easy. "This is my third Wounded War Project event, " he said flashing a big grin, "and I'll definitely be back for more!"

Ernest Thompson III scales the wall!
Todd Munn, the event's coordinator and therapeutic recreation specialist at Gaylord, says "Early intervention with active sports results in successful rehabilitation, leading to fuller life opportunities including employment and healthy relationships."

After seeing this well-organized event, I hope more veterans will take advantage of such opportunities. Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project events are on the rise in New England according to other event organizers. Stop by Riverside Park this weekend to catch a glimpse of this year's event or contact Todd Munn at tmunn@gaylord to sign up for next year's in Hartford.

Other upcoming veterans events include a WWP event on Cape Cod,  September 17-19 with camping at Shawme Crowell State Park and a similar array of recreation activities, hosted by CAPEAble Adventures. For a single day experience, come to Blue Hills State Reservation in Milton, MA on Saturday, September 25. DCR and the Department of Veteran's Services are hosting a day of various activities including hiking, geocaching, and fly-fishing demonstrations. For more information on the September 19 program, contact Gigi Ranno at 617-626-1294.

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