This wonderful ride began for us in the fall of 2006, as a group of local paddlers and VA employees gathered to “kick around” the idea of getting vets out on the water in kayaks. We assembled a core tram to lead 7this venture, secured a pool, and were off… not yet affiliated with TRR, just a bunch of paddlers paving the way. Boats were no worries, because we had all the boats we needed from local outfitter Canoe Kentucky. Volunteers were no problem as we had a great club in the Bluegrass Wildwater Association, as well as numerous local paddlers who saw the merit in what we were looking to do. And vets were no problem, because our VA Recreational Therapist was and is a huge voice and inspiration for getting these guys out of the hospitals and into boats.
We began in the pool in the winter of 2007 with two guys. We were initially working with a legally blind vet and a vet with PTSD.
Winter sessions went well, with both men learning techniques for paddling, including rolling, bracing, fitness, etc.We graduated this season with a paddling trip on the Elkhorn Creek. What a thrill it was, especially the fact that the parent of one of our vets got to watch him tackle class I water by himself… with no sight!
In late 2007, our Lexington VA stepped up enough and bought their our own gear. They purchased 12 kayaks, everything from tandem pedal drives to whitewater kayaks. They also purchased all the paddles, pfd’s, helmets, skirts, and more to go with them. They were even able to get a trailer to store all these goodies in. This allowed us to have some local gear that could be used in the absence of gear from local outfitters and volunteers.
In late 2007 we were fortunate enough to have the VA step up and allow us to buy our own gear. We purchased 12 kayaks, everything from tandem pedal drives to whitewater kayaks. We got all the paddles, pfd’s, helmets, skirts, and more to go with them. We even were able to get a trailer to store all these goodies in.
2008 came and we made the call that it was time to join forces with TRR. So Joe came down and we did our “training.” We were exposed to kayak football, and we exposed Joe, or should I say re-introduced Joe (you know he’s from here!) to the beauty of Kentucky’s waterways. And so we were off.
The way that our program is set up, meaning the resources we pull from, have always lent itself to three things. 1) We have the ability, gear and people to work with anyone, no matter the disability. In fact, our chapter has a lot of our vets working with other folks in the public that are spinal cord injuries and amputees. We also work a lot with active duty military personnel as well as wounded vets from any and all era’s.
2) We have a lot of flat water as well as a lot of whitewater. With this, we can provide a multitude of trips. We focus our weekly trips on flat water as to expose newer paddlers to paddling comfortably, as well as to allow our returning paddlers to work on their leadership skills. We spend a lot of time on the Elkhorn Creek and the Kentucky River. We also do monthly trips to local whitewater rivers in and around Kentucky. Some recent trips have been to the Nantahala, Pigeon, French Broad and the Nolichucky.
And 3) we work closely with the in patient program at the VA, so many of our guys suffer from PTSD and TBI. We feel like we have pioneered a lot of the research on techniques for working with these folks, and have to date gotten over 100 “butts in boats” that otherwise would not have.
So where are we heading now? Endless possibilities are out there. We have developed our own Leadership Trip to the Florida Keys. This trip takes place in the fall, and allows 6-8 veterans to get to paddle in some of the most beautiful and pristine water off the Florida Coast. Not only do they get to paddle, but snorkel, swim with dolphins, become better boaters… as well as lead, follow, grow and become better people.
We have also had a hand in a lot of the TRR:N documents that have come out, including work on the handbook and volunteer orientation paperwork. Mostly, though, we are proud of the work “our” paddlers have gone out and done.
For example, our visually limited vet mentioned above, has gone out and developed a program to teach slalom kayaking to blind veterans. One of our spinal injury paddlers, has been a consistent leader in the adaptive paddling community, and the poster child for the 2010 Summer Sports Clinic. And many more that amaze us everyday, and honestly, help us, as paddlers, grow and become happy and better people.
As of early 2011, we developed our own TRR: Lex Executive Committee, which will lead our chapter through these high growth times. We have also helped to establish a chapter on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University. This has been a wildly successful part of the program, with over 20 folks showing up to pool sessions in the first couple of weeks. We are calling this the “preventive medicine” side of TRR!
We are also developing many fundraisers, including a TRR Meet and Greet, and an expedition paddle the entire length of the Kentucky River. This trip will take place in September, and will cover 255 miles of river over 16 days. We are hoping to raise over $50,000.00 through this event! Be a part of it!
So come be part of our story. We most definitly have a lot of chapters to write, and we want you to be a part of it. Whether you are reading this as a potential veteran participant, a soon to be volunteer, or as someone who loves to see lives changed everyday… come join us for some “Aqua Therapy”, and become “Liquid Addicted” with us.
Fill out the form to the right to send a message to the chapter coordinator and get involved!