Tampa Bay Chapter Paddle Event at Weedon Island

On Saturday, June 20, 2020  Team River Runner- Tampa Bay Chapter held our first kayaking event since the recent Phase I opening after the coronavirus pandemic. We paddled through the watery green portal of the magical mangrove tunnels of the Weedon Island Preserve’s kayaking trails. The following folks paddled 2.5 miles of the very popular 4 mile South Trail loop:

  • Kim Siewert
  • Tom Clearwater
  • Howard Toller
  • Lori Kelly
  • Bill Frake
  • Rand Abedrabbo
  • Mark Fratoni

We are looking forward to our next paddling event in the July/August timeframe- based on the impact of the recent coronavirus surge we are experiencing in Florida. We’ll keep you posted on the location/timing and logistics for our next event. Thanks so much for Kim Siewert’s leadership and execution of this very enjoyable TRR- Tampa Bay Chapter event!!

Bill Frake

Rand Abedrabbo

Team River Runner receives large Kayak Donation from Tony Lunt, Co-Founder of Jackson Kayak!

Tony Lunt, Co- Founder of Jackson Kayak recently donated a large amount of kayaks to be distributed to our southeast region. Even in the time of COVID when we are paddling a little less often and in smaller groups, this is a huge win. We are so grateful for Tony’s generosity. We asked Tony a few questions about the kayaks and the donation that you can read below. 

What is your involvement in the industry/sport of kayaking? 

I have been paddling since 1970 and have stayed involved in the sport ever since.

I founded Jackson Kayak with David Knight and Eric Jackson in 2003. The company became #1 in whitewater after three years and has maintained it’s standing in the white water world  by continuously making the best quality kayaks in the industry.

What is the history/story of the donated kayaks?

Since the inception of Jackson Kayak, I have been collecting most of our boat’s models. All generations and most models are part of this gift. The donated kayaks are a good history of the kayaks designed and built by JK.  Most of those kayaks went down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon, some twice. The fun and excitement those kayaks brought is unmeasurable. The Villain surfed the first mountain wave in Lava Falls in 22,000cfs of mostly mud. I personally did a complete backward flip on wave #10 in Hermit in the Super Hero. Didn’t plan to. That big wave did all the work. The two first generations of Zen’s and FUN’s were paddled from Salt River Canyon in Arizona to the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho. The All Water is a good flat water/expedition kayak. Only used it once.  All boats are sound (the Antix is missing its plug) and ready to paddle safely. All those kayaks ended up either hanging in my barn or stacked in a back room gathering dust. I decided that they needed to be given away (I could have sold them) to the right people, they would continue to bring joy and happiness to be back on the water with a thrilled paddler. Now, you continue their history.

Why did you choose TRR for the donation?

I asked around. I wanted a good home for all of them where they would be appreciated, used often and not end up again in storage. More than one person recommended your organization for the gift. When I checked you out, I saw right away that TRR would not only give my boats a good home, but also used them respectfully and properly. When I saw the pictures on your website of our kayaks, it was obvious that you enjoyed them and teaching how to use them safely.

What is your favorite river/body of water to paddle on?!

I enjoy my local river, the Upper Salt River Canyon when it runs in the Spring. I don’t know how to qualify how I feel about The Canyon. The scale and complexity of the geology and geography, the size, noise and intensity of its big water, the quiet of its side canyon, the massive rock permanently over your head, the magic that exists below the rim…

I also enjoy the small class II+ rivers of western Europe. There is this river in Belgium that has no road and man made structure for 15 miles. It may  not be a big deal in the US,  but in high density and small countries, it is a rarity. This river snakes through deep dark conifer woods that exhales a sense of wild mystery.

Jewells like the Selway in Idaho. Class III – IV technical creek high up in the old growth cedars. The clearest river water I ever saw. Of course, the Middle Fork of the Salmon., the drainage just south of the Selway. Pine country with amazing geology, fun rapids and good times.

I could go on. The point is: Get on a wild river and enjoy it!

Take good care of those boats and they will give you years of great times!

Key Largo Clinic & BLESMA Collaborative Event

From March 1-7, 2020, the warm weather and welcoming community of Key Largo hosted six veterans with visual impairment and their guides for another fantastic OuttaSight program.  This program became exclusively an OuttaSight program a few years ago, and with the financial assistance of the Blind Veterans of America’s Peer Support Program, has focused on training veterans with visual impairments (VI) as well as training veterans and volunteers to be VI guides. 

This year, we had a mix of experienced and inexperienced paddlers and guides, and the teaching and learning was a two-way street.   Jen Eaton was our VI and mobility instructor, although Brian Harris reversed the roles when it came to whitewater roll instruction in the pool.  In addition to guide training on and off the water, our team paddled Blackwater Sound, Dusenberry Creek, Garden Cove, and the always challenging mangrove trails at John Pennekamp State Park. 

We threw in a therapeutic swim with dolphins at Island Dolphin Care and a mandatory visit to Shell World for the required souvenir shopping.  And if that wasn’t enough, the little bit of time we had remaining was quickly filled up with daily yoga sessions, pool sessions, and guitar lessons. 

Brian Harris was our veteran OuttaSight paddler, and was joined by Don Bickham, Braian DeJesus, Hugo Gonzalez, Hugo Perez, and Raquel Welch.  Guides included Colin Drew, Jen Eaton, Mark Fratoni, Celiann Gonzalez, Deborah Reyes, and Steve Wade.  Our local guide and tide reader, Jamie Jackson, was indispensable as always.

This event would not be the same without the support of our Key Largo friends and partners.  Amoray Resort once again graciously hosted us, Florida Bay Outfitters generously provided our boats and trailer, and Island Dolphin Care provided our memorable therapeutic swim with the dolphins.  The Elks Club and VFW Post 333 fed us and entertained us.  Thanks also to Sean Hannan from Veterans Get Guitars for the donation of his time and guitars for all of our veterans, and all the local residents who generously feed us every year!

 Photo of participants L to R: Raquel, Hugo, Braian, Carlos, Brian, and Don.

Photo of group – front L to R: Celiann, Colin, Braian, Deborah
back L to R: Mark, Carlos, Raquel, Don, Hugo, Brian, Jen, Steve, Jamie

Testimonial from Carlos Pere’- President FRG – BVA

I would like to thank Team River Runner and Jamie Jackson for providing an AWESOME experience at the March Key Largo kayak clinic. I now think of kayaking in a different and exciting way, I am currently looking for kayaks for the entire family, as well looking to volunteer and promote a new TRR local charter in Tampa Bay. Kayaking is a sport we can all easily practice physical distancing and have fun as long as good judgement and safety is applied. It was great to partake in this experience with other fellow Blinded Veterans and watch there confidence grow. By the way I’m determined to perfect my hip snap and roll! I recommend others to try it and you’ll be surprised on your outlook and results, thank you for volunteering your time and much love to the team!!

Excerpt from an article with Brian Harris’ input

“The BVA/Operation peer support collaborated with Team River Runner for a week of kayaking,fellowship,and mentoring with others. The following BVA members attended the event, Hugo Gonzalez, Raquel Welch, Don Bickham, Carlos Pedre, and team leader Brian Harris.

The event was held in South Florida on the beautiful shores of Key Largo and its crystal blue Waters. The group stayed at the Amoray Hotel, which was foot steps away from the crystal clear waters of the Florida keys On the third day of kayaking, the veterans were introduced to Sean.

Sean started a foundation called Guitars for Heroes. He started raising money to purchase guitars for veterans and provide them with a basic lesson before gifting the guitar to the them. The vets were so impressed by his offer, the entire group was enthusiastic and eager to learn the lesson. After teaching them how to tune the guitar and explain to them keys and chords, the vets practiced 1 hour each day. On the last day of the event, all team members were presented with a guitar of their own.

The veterans were given an opportunity to swim with dolphins. The veterans were paired with their guide and a certified dolphin trainer to do tricks with the dolphins and to free swim. “This event was so amazing, “ says Raquel. The veterans were treated as guests of honor-at the American Legion and the Elks club in Key Largo. The people of the community came out and thanked the veterans for their service and sacrifices. Hugo Gonzalez stated, “ It’s events like these that makes me feel like I am not alone, that I have a-brotherhood.” On the last day, 3 individuals were presented with BVA coins by Brian Harris. The first coin was given to Jaime Jackson, for his knowledge and expert navigating through the Florida mangroves and seas. The second coin was presented to Sean for blessing the veterans with the guitars and lessons. The last coin went to Jennifer Eaton for being the only visually impaired mobility instructor to come down from Pennsylvania to assist with mentoring, kayaking and help guiding other visually impaired vets. In my opinion, it is events like these that challenges vets to step outside their comfort zones and to see the progress they’ve made at the end of the event.”

Testimonial from Hugo Gonzalez

I got to meet and make new friends, brothers in arms, which I share so much more than just a joint service. We all share the love for our nation and our armed forces, and because of  it we related immediately to each other in many ways. But beyond that, all the participants shared one more commonality- we were all legally blind veterans.

The guides were at all times adapting every situation and he resources around our particular war injury. Overall, it was 8 days of adventure that addressed for each one of us a specific challenge intrinsic and unique to each of us. But this experience wouldn’t have been possible without the security, the trust and connection that our instructors were able to build in all of us

TRR X Calleva Mexico Trip

In 2020 TRR added a new National Paddling Clinic-Mexico whitewater kayaking. This clinic is due to TRR’s close relationship with Calleva Outdoors. Veterans from all Chapters who build class 3 whitewater paddling skills can apply to this winter (January) week long paddling clinic. Partnering with Calleva in the DC/MD/VA area has helped increase paddling opportunities, and adding their Mexico Paddling program is a great addition to the TRR National Programs offerings.

Check out a Go Pro video of the trip


TRR Southern IL teams up with local VA and University to serve Veterans

“The new Team River Runner Southern Illinois (TRR-SoIL), chapter is joining with the Marion VA Medical Center and SIU’s Veteran Adventures and Recreational Sports and Services to sponsor the clinics.

Kayaks, outriggers, paddles and adaptive paddles, universal padding seats and personal flotation devices will be provided. Participants should bring swimsuits and towels; goggles, nose plugs and water socks or shoes are optional.”

Read The Full Story

TRR Spokane partners with Eastern Washington University

“As he’s being loaded into a kayak in the Eastern Washington University pool one evening, George Davis says he’s actually a pretty good kayaker, except for one thing.

“I just can’t see where I’m going,” said Davis, a Navy veteran who started losing his sight at age 30 and was completely blind by 50. “But no problem.”

Davis is a regular at the weekly Team River Runner kayaking event where therapeutic recreation students Kristen Eissman and Austin Kapalo help veterans learn to kayak in a way that meets their physical and mental health needs.”

Read The Full Story 

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