Army veteran from Illinois defies odds after losing leg, eyesight

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.

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Grand Canyon Trip – Craig Larcenaire

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.

-Craig Larcenaire

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Grand Canyon Trip Coverage – Colorado Sun

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.


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2 Blind Veterans who Kayaked the Grand Canyon to compete in DC Biathlon

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

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  

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Post Grand Canyon Thoughts- Eric Carlson & Steve Baskis

Eric Carlson, Part of the Steve Baskis paddling team

I am on my way home from spending twelve days in the Grand Canyon.  This trip is by far the most amazing expedition that I have ever been on. 
Last January I received a call asking if I would like to be part of Team River Runners’ dream of leading 5 blind kayakers down the Canyon.  I was shocked and speechless by this question. After a few moments, I was able to process what an incredible opportunity I was invited to do, immediately giving an affirmative yes.  
Over the next six months, I trained with Team River Runner (TRR) in West Virginia, Colorado, and Idaho.  During this time, I met close to a hundred of the most gracious people volunteering their time, homes, and vehicles. They would feed us, shuttle us, care for us, and give us places to stay.  More importantly, they believed in us and what we were trying to accomplish.  
For our trip down the Grand Canyon we had 15 guides for the 5 blind kayakers.  We were in what we called “pods”. One primary guide and two support guides were paired up with each blind boater. I was Steve’s primary guide, while Mike and Ken were our support guides.  I would lead Steve through each rapid by voice directives, yelling “HUP!” and he would follow me down the rapid without the use of sight. Mike and Ken would follow Steve through each rapid and yell tip right or tip left to make minor adjustments as he made his way down each rapid.  They would also be there to take over guiding Steve if we happened to get separated.  Our pod and the others worked together throughout the summer to perfect this choreographed river dance to safely guide those in our care.  
On September 1st, 2018, we showed up to Lee’s Ferry full of excitement to start our grand adventure. We knew this was bound to be a special trip, yet we were nervous as we had no idea what was going to unfold once we were in the canyon.  We did have 3 large rafts with motors on them and 4 guides from AZRA to support us as we made our way down the canyon – just in case anyone wanted to tap out for a spell. 
After we officially launched, it didn’t take long for the nerves to wear off and within the first day we all realized we had the perfect crew to be successful.  
As worked our way down the Canyon, we ran the rapids in the roaring twenties – punching holes in House Rock, Hance, Horn Creek, Crystal and Lava. We rode giant 25-foot waves on Sockdolager, Granite, and Hermit.  We cried tears of frustration, joy, and laughter.  We had multiple swims (including myself). We hiked slot canyons and saw places like Red Wall Cavern and the Nankoweap Granaries.  We slept under the stars and in the rain, ate amazing food and played music every night. We consumed mad amounts coffee and even had a few sound lasers (don’t ask).  
In the end, we were beyond successful, we kayaked 226 miles from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek.  We had no major injuries, just a few bumps and bruises.  I could not imagine doing this trip with a better group.  They are the most caring, loving, and encouraging people I have ever met. I am so honored and thankful to have been invited and accepted into their TRR family.  
What I learned on this trip, is that you don’t have to change the world to accommodate people with disabilities; nor do most of them want that. We need to change our attitude and realize they are capable. We need to encourage them and give them opportunities for adventures.  
I challenge each and every one of you that is reading this, that the next time you run into a veteran or somebody with a disability to go up and talk to them, get to know him or her, become friends and invite them along. I know it’s not always easy, but you might give light to someone in a dark place and may even save a life.  
Thank you to Joe and Lonnie for making your dream reality and allowing me to experience it alongside you! It was humbling, and I have never been so honored.  I also want to give thanks to my sidekicks – Mike and Ken, I couldn’t have done it without you.  Steve, you are amazing. It was my pleasure watching you grow as a paddler and run rapids that most sighted paddlers won’t attempt, and you conquered them by solely trusting your guides.  There are no words to explain how impressed and proud I am of you.  To the rest of the pods and crew, it was a delight to work with you. I am proud to call you all my friends now.  Lonnie said it best, “I’ve got your six.”

Steve Baskis, Blind Vision Team Member

**Please be warned: Steve takes out his eye prosthetic in this video** 


Jen McGowan – Perry Point VA

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

Western Regional- Charles

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.  

-Charles Albright

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