Paddle sports program offers healing
July 11, 2014
Fort Belvoir, Va. (July 3, 2014) - Staff Sgt. Adam Drobecker, Warrior Transition Battalion, has endured his share of challenges since suffering a traumatic brain injury from the improvised explosive device that nearly killed him while serving in Iraq in 2006.
It hasn't always been easy, but the 27-year-old is on the mend, both mentally and physically, as his Army career comes to a close and he says he has Team River Runner and its therapeutic paddle sports program to partly thank for it. Using kayaks, canoes, inflatable kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, TRR promotes free "health and healing" for servicemembers bouncing back from life-altering injuries such as post-traumatic stress, TBI, amputations, spinal cord injuries, sight impairment and other disabling wounds.
Drobecker was quickly won over soon after arriving at Fort Belvoir a few weeks ago.
"I had a blast the first night and I keep coming back," he said.
Drobecker was among the handful of recovering servicemembers, veterans and Family members who braved the waters of the Potomac River on a recent Monday evening for a soothing kayaking excursion from Fort Belvoir to Mount Vernon.
There were seasoned paddlers and novices alike, each vying to get closer to nature while enjoying the sense of outdoor adventure, athletic challenge and social interaction the two-and-a-half-mile journey offered. Things went smoothly, with this reporter being the only one on this particular evening to flip his kayak over for a quick swim in the Potomac. Experienced kayakers more commonly refer to this as a "wet exit."
(And, for the record, I don't advise ever turning your kayak sideways into the oncoming waves.)
Starting from the Tompkins Basin, the diverse group paddlers slowly made their way from the serene waters there to the deeper, choppier parts of the river that soon waited. Mother Nature's breathtaking power and splendor was everywhere to see.
Everybody had a great time, and that was just the idea, said Sean McCarthy, the outgoing Fort Belvoir Chapter coordinator of Team River Runner and retired Marine who served two tours in Vietnam.
"I'm an old warrior trying to help the young ones," McCarthy said. "The whole point is to help with the healing process, get guys back in the game of life."
A non-profit organization founded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2004 with the intent of providing services to the nation's wounded servicemembers, veterans and their Families; TRR has grown to nearly 50 sites at or close to other Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs locations.
Fitted with adaptive technology and equipment that has been crafted to fit the needs of each individual participant, TRR seeks to enhance the quality of life of the returning Soldiers and their Families with the kind of inner peace that new experiences and adrenaline-producing challenges in the water can provide.
"We're not teaching these guys to be sailors," said John Deitle, the Fort Belvoir chapter's rising coordinator and also a retired Marine. "We're teaching them to get back into life and be productive again. We do it with water-paddle sports."
Injured ervicemembers are required to receive medical clearance before participating, as well as being expected to get the OK from their commanding officers, Deitle said. Those suffering from head injuries are required to wear helmets when in the water.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Tom Womble, TRR's Director of Instruction, has been volunteering his time to the program since 2006. He called the water-paddle aspect of the returning Soldiers' rehabilitation "crucial" to their continued recovery.
Drobecker, who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, sounded sold on the program's merits.
"I don't know how much longer I'm going to be here," he said, "but I'm going to keep coming out as long as I can. It's a great opportunity to get out there and try something new."