"It’s nice to have folks that surround you who encourage
you to try things you may not have thought about doing,"
this May evening, just like they do every week in the
warmer months, a group of about 20 of them met on the
Potomac River, just downstream from Great Falls Park in
Maryland, for some instruction and support.
Before being allowed out on the river, beginners like
Rink learn the basics in the therapy pool at Walter Reed
Army Medical Center and the Carderock Model Basin at the
Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bethesda.
Guiding them along the way are volunteers like Ashley
Crandall was serving in Iraq last year as a Blackhawk
helicopter mechanic with the Utah National Guard’s
2-211th Aviation, when she was wounded and medically
evacuated. While recuperating at Walter Reed, she got
involved with TRR and now she is instructing others.
After learning how to escape an overturned kayak,
"beginners learn the three basic maneuvers: Eddie turns,
ferries and peel-outs," said Crandall, who usually
kayaks three times a week.
Photo by Master Sgt. Greg Rudl
Ashley Crandall, center, poses with participants
a Team River Runner event on the Potomac River in
said the advanced skill of rolling is especially
important when you’ve capsized in whitewater.
"It’s a lot easier and safer for someone to roll up on
their own, versus being rescued by someone else or
swimming through whitewater… or frigid water," said
Crandall, who demonstrated four or five different rolls
with nose plugs in and a helmet on.
kayaking therapy not only helps wounded warriors with
physical disabilities, but mental ones too, said Dave
Shanahan, a TRR group leader.
said Servicemembers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
and Traumatic Brain Disorder typically have short
attention spans and have a hard time focusing, and
that’s where kayaking helps. Learning to paddle and roll
and taking those skills to whitewater builds confidence,
said Shanahan, adding "It’s great therapy."
has as much to do with creating a social network and
support system as it does with teaching water sports
skills. That’s evident from the time the group unloads
kayaks and assembles gear in the parking lot to their
meeting for a beer afterward. The atmosphere is relaxed
and supportive, peppered with joking, ribbing and a love
for the sport.
program counts on volunteers. Some come from near, and
others, like Air Force Master Sgt. Mike Beal, came from
Alaska. The deputy fire chief was accompanied by his son
and wife, who is also a Servicemember working
temporarily in Washington.
Kayaking gives Vets feedback on their balance, which
also helps them when they are on dry land, said Beal. He
plans to start a TRR group when he gets back to his
unit, the 176th Wing at Kulis Air National Guard Base.
Another volunteer, Army Master Sgt. Doug Bernard, a
Special Forces member from the Utah National Guard, said
TRR combines his passions.
get to be outside and doing the things I like to do and
share those skills with Soldiers who have never
experienced them," said Bernard. "Through it all, you
get to see the progression and watch people's eyes light
up as they realize what they can do."
had just come back from a trip to Morocco, where he had
taught Soldiers there skiing and mountaineering skills
through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.