America Supports You: Group Gets Injured Troops Back in the Game
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2007 A Maryland-based group is out to show severely wounded servicemembers they’ve still got game through the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project.
Jason Beakes holds a prosthetic leg for Army Sgt. Brandon Huff at the end of the day’s runs at Dickerson Whitewater Course, in Dickerson, Md., March 12, 2005. Beakes, a champion whitewater kayaker, volunteers with Team River Runner, teaching kayaking to disabled veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Photo by Neil Hermansdorfer
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“The idea for the program is to … get these guys active as soon as possible while they’re there in the hospital, so they can realize they can still be active with their disability,” said Kirk Bauer, Disabled Sports USA’s executive director.
The Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project, created in 2003, is a partnership between Disabled Sports USA and the Wounded Warrior Project. It offers more than 14 sports -- both winter and summer -- and 70 events yearly.
Sports include snow skiing, biking, water skiing, hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking, and a group of veterans recently earned their underwater diving certification.
Disabled Sports USA and the Wounded Warrior Project are both supporters of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
With just a staff of five to work with the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project, Bauer relies on Disabled Sports USA’s chapters around the country.
“When (wounded veterans) go skiing, they go skiing with Challenge Aspen or Sun Valley Adaptive Skiing (Idaho) or Breckinridge Outdoor Education Center in Breckinridge, Colo.,” Bauer said, citing some examples.
Though Disabled Sports USA’s programs are available for any individual with a physical disability, the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project is only for veterans of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, Bauer said.
“This particular program, because everything is paid for -- from their transportation to get them there, to hotels, the food, the adaptive equipment, everything -- we’re limiting it those who were recently injured,” he said. “These are folks that have lost limbs and basically had their life altered from their disability.”
Servicemembers participating in the project usually are recovering at one of three major military hospitals: Walter Reed Army Medical Center here; Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and Naval Medical Center San Diego. Bauer said the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., isn’t included because sailors and Marines recovering there go to Walter Reed for rehabilitation.
The project also reaches out to those recovering from severe head trauma or spinal cord injuries who are being treated at one of several veterans hospitals specializing in care of those conditions, Bauer said.
“We try to find them were they are,” he said.
Some of those the group reaches out to are very easy to find. They’re sitting at the recovering veterans’ bedsides.
“We realize that when the … warrior is severely injured, the entire family is impacted,” Bauer said. “We provide all expenses paid for at least one family member to go with the wounded warrior and learn the sport and actually be a part of that person learning how to water ski, snow ski, whatever they’re doing.”
That helps eliminate the “deer-in-the-headlights” look he said he so often sees from family members as they try to figure out how to help their loved ones recover, he said.
More than 1,200 veterans and caretakers have benefited from the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project. In a little over a month, that number will grow again. Another chapter in the Disabled Sports USA network, Team River Runner, is taking a group of veterans and their caretakers and heading for the blue waters of the Caribbean.
This is no vacation, though. With a schedule packed full of sea kayaking, camping, swimming and snorkeling there’s very little chance these double leg amputees will be sipping drinks with little umbrellas.
“It’s not going to be a resort,” said Joe Mornini, Team River Runner’s executive director. “It’s going to be an adventure trip.” And one that will help to build confidence and a support network, he added.