Team River Runner and Blesma, The limbless Veterans organization located in the UK joined together to hold a kayaking program in Key Largo, FL.
Action News 2 spoke to Steve Baskis, one of the 5 blind veterans who kayaked the Grand Canyon with Team River Runner in September.
Listen to his thoughts here.
Warning: This video will hit you right in the feels, but it’s absolutely worth the watch.
Travis Fugate had never met a blind person before he lost his vision fighting overseas. He was sure that extreme sports were over for him. But as Travis would learn, he was capable of kayaking down 226 miles of frothing whitewater through the Grand Canyon.
This weekend, we mark Veterans Day in the United States. It’s a day to honor those who serve our country and protect our interests around the world.
There are millions of stories of sacrifice among our military members.
Brian Harris is one of those stories.
The Chicago native and Dolton resident served in the U.S. Army for eight years. He said what he learned during that time helped prepare him for the challenges he faces today after losing his leg in 2012 and then his eyesight. Disabilities haven’t slowed him down. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with him.
What an amazing trip with such inspirational people. We have all learned and grown so much on our 12 day expedition on the Colorado River. It was especially inspiring to see how well everyone worked together, both on and off the water. Our five vision team kayakers paddled some huge whitewater rapids and hiked some beautiful canyons. I am humbled by their attitude and motivation to keep moving and conquer new challenges. I am truly blessed to be a part of this adventure.
Steve Baskis got off line while kayaking in House Rapid, the first serious whitewater in the Grand Canyon. He veered left into the maw of a truck-sized hole he couldn’t see. It swallowed his kayak. He rolled up. It flipped him again. He rolled upright again.
He heard faint yelling from his friends — “Hup! Hup! Hup!” — barely audible over the roar.
He couldn’t see his fellow paddlers.
But that wasn’t troubling. Baskis hasn’t seen anything — not even light — since a roadside bomb tore through his Army truck in Iraq in 2008, sending shrapnel into his face and killing Victor Cota, a friend sitting next to him.
A decade later, Baskis was digging his paddle into the Colorado River and following his ears — chasing those “Hups!” — back to his pod of kayaking guides. They were hooting and congratulating him on his exceptional paddling through one of the rowdier rapids in the canyon.
MEDIA EVENT: September 17th
2 Blind Veterans who Kayaked the Grand Canyon to compete in DC Biathlon
(WASHINGTON, DC) —Members of Team River Runner (TRR) and the Congressionally Chartered Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) have completed a historic adventure – guiding five blind veterans who kayaked the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, a distance of 226 miles. Two years of training in Outtasight Vision Team Clinics through Team River Runner that were specifically programmed for blind and visually impaired paddlers paid off as the 5 blind veterans conquered the mighty rapids of the Grand Canyon.
TRR is an adaptive paddling adventure program for wounded and disabled veterans, their family members, and other non- military disabled paddlers in communities across the nation. The organization began service to returning wounded service people at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in 2004. TRR is a Chapter of the Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA). Since their formation, TRR has placed 10,000+ veterans into kayaks in more than 60 chapters nationwide.
The veterans and guides alike showed great resilience paddling for 12 days for a total of 226 miles on some of the most daunting rapids in the United States. This experience was empowering for all those on the trip, showing everyone following the trip’s progress as well as themselves that they are capable of incredible feats. Travis Fugate, a blind veteran mentioned, “ I don’t think I will ever say “I can’t” again.” This seemed to be the sentiment among all the blind veterans as their hard work and can-do attitude throughout the trip, inspired their veteran guides and safety boaters.
The Grand Canyon isn’t the last stop for these veterans, they will go on to serve as ambassadors for Team River Runner, encouraging other blind and visually impaired veterans to get involved in adaptive paddling programs. Next up for our Vision Team members Brian Harris, Steve Baskis and hopefully others, is to take part in the 14th Annual TRR DC Biathlon taking place on October 14th at the Washington Canoe Club. This race is a 1 mile flat water kayak or Stand Up Paddle board race followed by a 3 mile run, walk or hand cycle segment. The Vision Team members will be racing as part of an adaptive team. Information about the event can be found at https://teamriverrunner.myetap.org/fundraiser/dc_biathlon18/
This historic adventure was partially funded by Google Maps. The ultimate goal is to encourage all veterans or non veterans with disabling issues to take on adventure paddling in its many forms. To get involved with Team River Runner, find a chapter near you on www.TeamRiverRunner.org.
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Eric Carlson, Part of the Steve Baskis paddling team
Steve Baskis, Blind Vision Team Member
**Please be warned: Steve takes out his eye prosthetic in this video**
TRR has brought so much joy to my stay at Perry Point Va! I found my love for Kayaking and being on the open water and having those few hours of serenity and fun to forget about my difficulties and disability! Thank you and I can’t wait until the next time! I hope it’s very soon
-Jen McGowan – Perry Point VA
As a volunteer for the event I was very humbled to assist with such a great event. I had only helped with a pool session at the Reno Elks Club before. This was truly amazing as I came into it expecting possible carnage or folks out of control. Instead I met and paddled with many very well qualified Team River Runner members. I dispensed my knowledge to many of the folks and saw lots of smiles and happy paddlers all 3 days. Now I have many more friends in the paddling community. Glad to be part of this event.