Wounded Warriors Embark On Caribbean Adventure

One key in helping Wounded Warriors adapt to the changes that their injuries bring into their lives, is to get them involved in everday things that they used to enjoy. Many times, the Wounded Warriors, due to their injuries, feel that they might never be able to participate in those things again. More and more, they’re finding that they can do pretty much anything they have in the past and even things that they’d never tried before. Prime examples of that are Major David Rozelle, “Mighty Joe” Beimfohr, Bob Kunkle, 1st Lt. Ivan Castro and many other Wounded Warriors who have recovered from their injuries and went on to accomplish great things in their lives.

One group, dedicated to ensuring that our Wounded Warriors come to realize their potential, despite their injuries is Team River Runner which is a chapter of Disabled Sports USA. They recently organized their inagural trip to introduce the mostly double leg amputees to adaptive sea kayaking, snorkeling and camping. Seven Wounded Warriors took part in the trip and arrived in the US Virgin Islands last week, to participate in the adventure on the beautiful, warm, crystal clear, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Ocean.

Team River Runner (TRR), established in August 2004 by kayakers in the Washington, DC, area, is an all-volunteer organization run by a council of kayakers and overseen by a board of directors. Working in partnership with The Wounded Warrior Project and Disabled Sports USA, TRR helps veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) find health, healing, and new challenges through whitewater boating on the Potomac River. While the focus of TRR’s work is on soldiers recuperating at WRAMC, TRR also provides whitewater boating opportunities for family members as well as for other wounded veterans.

The main objective of the group was to paddle 6 miles from US Virgin Islands to the British Virgin Islands in sea kayaks. This location was chosen, because of the accommodating climate and the waters. Joe Mornini, the director of Team River Runner was also familiar with the location, having kayaked and snorkled there 6 times previously. Not only was the trip to be an adventure for the participants, but, due to the beautiful surroundings, it would be a healing trip as well.

“One of the things that’s most obvious is the physical benefits from kayaking,” said Phil Sayre, a member of Team River Runner’s board of directors. “Another component besides the physical gain is the confidence.”

For Joe Mornini, his hope was that the Wounded Warriors who were participating, would gain self-confidence and begin the emotional healing process, in the beautiful tropical location. The majority of them have mobility issues due to their amputations. Water, the main ingredient for kayaking or snorkeling, is a great equalizer. It allows people with disabilities or mobility issues to do things that they never imagined possible.

For the 7 amputees or mobility challenged Warriers and their spouses, that was exacly their reaction to the surroundings. They were well aware of the challenges they faced, when they set out on their kayaking trip, but they were also very excited about the opportunities and benefits that were presented by the trip.

“On the slopes, I’m a little bit more of an advanced skier than my wife,” said Christopher Fesmire, referring to adaptive winter sports programs in which he and his wife have participated. The former Marine lost both of his legs above the knee while serving in Iraq. “This trip, Willow and I, we can get out there the first day and get in a kayak together and go kayaking.”

One thing that was unexpected, by the couples, was the overwhelming response they received from the locals. Everyone was friendly and treated them like they were family. One place they stopped during their trip was a local campground known as “Ivans.” Not only is Ivan’s home of the White Bay Campground, but also the Ivan’s Local Flavor Stress Free Bar. The bar still works on the honor system, where the patron takes a beverage, writes it down and pays before they leave for the day. The theme of the place, which is decorated floor to ceiling with shells and shell art, is that of a deserted tropical island, which lends itself to total relaxation and healing.

“It’s like being deserted on a tropical island, but you know you’re going to be rescued,” said Army Sgt. Peter Rooney, who lost both legs above the knee in April, near Ramadi. “Peaceful but at the same time, you know you’re in a remote location, so it has that edge to it.”

One sign, hanging on the wall, verify what Rooney said and the others on the trip agreed with. The sign, made from pieces of coral and shell says, “Ivan’s = Healing.”

Relaxing at Ivan’s was the reward the group got for a long day which began at the Cinnamon Bay campground on St. John’s US Virgin Islands, where they embarked from, as they began their adventure. Joe Mornini shouted to the group, “All legs in the dry bag.” The group laughed as they began removing their prosthetic legs. They laughed even harder when the spouse of one Wounded Warrior, Danielle Pannell retorted, “Have legs, will travel,” as she dropped her husband Kevin’s, prosthetic legs into the blue rubber bag. The bag of legs and 3 wheelchairs were leng loaded onto a power boat, which carried them on the trip to Jost Van Dyke.

The adventure then began, as the kayakers left Cinnamon Bay on their trek across the Caribbean Ocean towards their destination. After about 4 hours, they were setting up camp and trying to decide how to negotiate the sands on the new beach. The soft, almost powdery sand at Ivan’s campground provided worse traction that the sand they encountered at Cinnamon Bay.

“Everybody’s front axles are below the sand,” said Bill Johnston about his wheelchair and the chairs of others. Johnston, a former Marine, lost both of his legs almost 40 years ago, while he was serving in Vietnam.

As they attempted to negotiate their wheelchairs through the sand, the chairs sank into the sand, making it difficult for them to move. Improvisation though is one thing that our Soldier’s are very adept at and they soon arrived at a solution. They used a plastic tarp, placing it on the sand, so that the wheels would remain on top of the sand, instead of in the sand. Creativity was the name of the game. For former Marine Christopher Fesmire, he got a piggy back ride out of the surf from Phil Sayre.

“He described the sand to me,” Mornini said. “Well, it’s a hell of a lot more sand than I thought it was going to be. Then the guys that are here say, ‘Well this is cool. We’ll get through it. We’ll make it, but next time do this, bring this,’” he said.

The second night on the island, the group enjoyed some of the local sites, diniing in an open-air restaurant called “Foxy’s.” Foxys is popular among the locals as well as the tourists. That’s when they discovered something that they really didn’t expect, that far away from home. It’s something that they won’t find on a packing list. While they were enjoying their meals, a patron of the restaurant picked up the tab for their meals and quietly left. The only thing the patron asked employee’s of the restaurant to tell the groups was their thanks to the veterans.

Defenselink, Oct. 26th

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4 Responses

  1. Wounded Warriors Embark On Caribbean Adventure | trudesks Says:

    [...] You can read the full story here [...]

  2. Debbie Bradley Says:

    I have a son that has been in the Army for 10 years now. He has been shipped 5 times now, 4 times to Iraq. I really loved reading this story! It was such a Blessing to see how these soldiers are being treated. A much welcomed relief after reading the disturbing news I read about the Westboro Baptist Church and all the “HATE” they express towards America and especially our soldiers. I am a Christian and I don’t believe our God hates us, nor our Nation as they have so depicted in the things they are doing!

  3. illboy » Wounded Warriors Embark On Caribbean Adventure Says:

    [...] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptThe second night on the island, the group enjoyed some of the local sites, diniing in an open-air restaurant called “Foxy’s.” Foxys is popular among the locals as well as the tourists. That’s when they discovered something that they … [...]

  4. Craig J. Phillips MRC, BA Says:

    Hi Terri,
    My name is Craig J. Phillips. I am a traumatic brain injury survivor and a master’s level rehabilitation counselor. I sustained an open skull fracture with right frontal lobe damage and remained in a coma for 3 weeks at the age of 10 in August of 1967. I underwent brain and skull surgery after waking from the coma. Follow-up cognitive and psyche / social testing revealed that I would not be able to succeed beyond high school. In 1967 Neurological Rehabilitation was not available to me, so I had to teach myself how to walk, talk, read, write and speak in complete sentences. I completed high school on time and went on to obtain both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. For an in depth view of my process please read my post, http://secondchancetolive.wordpress.com/2007/02/18/my-journey-thus-far/

    Through out my lifetime I developed strategies to overcome many obstacles and in so doing I have achieved far beyond all reasonable expectations. On February 6, 2007 at the encouragement of a friend I created Second Chance to Live. Second Chance to Live, which is located at http://secondchancetolive.wordpress.com presents topics in such a way to encourage, motivate and empower the reader to live life on life’s terms. I believe our circumstances are not meant to keep us down, but to build us up. As a traumatic brain injury survivor, I speak from my experience, strength and hope. As a professional, I provide information to encourage, motivate and empower both disabled and non-disabled individuals to not give up on their process. Please read my post, http://secondchancetolive.wordpress.com/2007/04/18/the-power-of-identification/ My interest is to provide encouragement, hope, motivation and empowerment to survivors and their families.

    Please encourage your readers to visit Second Chance to Live at http://secondchancetolive.wordpress.com and consider adding Second Chance to Live to your web site as a useful resource and placing a notice in your newsletter.

    Thank you for your time and kindness.

    Have a simply phenomenal day!

    Craig J. Phillips MRC, BA
    Second Chance to Live
    Our circumstances are not meant to keep us down, but to build us up!

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