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Team River Runner is a program introducing wounded vets to kayaking. Team River Runner founded in Washington DC by Joe Mornini is growing nationally to remote locations and international tours. This is a small glimpse of a Colorado day of kayaking with TRR.
Joe Mornini explains how Team River Runner was founded.
Just two months ago my 19-year old nephew stepped on an IED, improvised explosive device, aka a landmine while serving in Afghanistan. Family members were tormented as they awaited news to whether Jonathan would live, lose limbs, or return home. The news that doctors would amputate below his knee came as good news in comparison to the speculations from the days leading up to a decision.
So, you can see I have a newfound interest in TRR. Even though Jon is not ready for a kayak physically or mentally I hope TRR can be an option for him.
TRR instructor Kim Johnson came into the CKS store two weeks ago. I had met Kim at a kayak hostel I own in Chile and was excited to see her, “Hi Kim how are you?” Kim explained her role with the TRR Colorado tour and I offered to volunteer one of my days off. This past week Kim called to take me up on the offer.
TRR and High Water Colorado
Organizers Kim, Dave Robey, and Tim Pfeil admitted, “It’s been a tough Colorado year for our group (beginners and intermediates). It seems like we’ve had something (epic) everyday. We haven’t seen an eddy all trip.” The professional leaders had opted for an easy or more relaxing day at the Salida Whitewater Park.
After meeting the vets Dave asked me to work with a couple, Stephen and Josh, who were more advanced and wanted to learn to surf. The group offered food and soon we all went to the river.
Josh was eager to paddle and had his dry suit on before I’d finished my sandwich. CKS donated a Wavesport-56 for Josh to try and that excited him too. But when he got in the eddy pulling swiftly to the high-water “Office Wave” Josh was tippy. Uncomfortable and insecure in the big water and new boat he opted to switch back to ‘ol reliable, his 2 Fun. Kim watching Josh says, “He’s had to take meds for pain just to be on the water. He’s super excited just to be here.”
Dave, Kim, Tim and Ben Kvanli worked on rolls, ferrys, and fundamental paddle skills running rapids. There were swims, T-rescues, cheers for rolls, and controlled surfs with spins. Ben told me to work with Stephen the most advanced paddler and he’d surf with Josh.
I’d been working with Stephen surfing and later would be approached by three vets excited with a video. Smiling, laughing and sharing they showed Josh surfing as Coach Ben held the stern from behind controlling edge stability. Eventually Ben let go as Josh surfed with no help. Then lost his balance and flipped into the current.
Dave Robey took the time to speak with me about my wounded nephew and shared his business card, “You call me and I’ll have someone at Walter Reid (DC rehab for Jon’s unit) invite him personally to the roll sessions. We’ll get him out there.” He was confident and it was obvious Dave knew it took some warm inviting to get some of the new guys active and out on the water.
I’m not going to lie and say this was a perfectly happy group. No not at all. This was a group of kayakers’ eager to learn. They’d experienced tough water levels and had taken their knocks. They’d even lost a Nomad and recovered it just the day prior. They were Colorado worn yet tough and wanting to learn more. Some had told themselves they’d take a day off that day. Then like most kayakers got excited for the waves and got out there just to play in the Colorado sun. The leaders and students together worked toward improving skills and enjoying the Arkansas.
Thank you Kim for calling and including me. Thank you Dave and Tim for offering to contact my nephew. And thank you Josh and Stephen for giving me the opportunity to share my passion and in some way feel important. It is with respect and admiration of both the vets and the instructors that I share the experience.
If you’d like to learn more or are in a position to help by volunteering or donating then surf to Team River Runner.