ARLINGTON, Va. -- Activities like wake surfing, ice skating and paddle boarding can be fun and memorable, especially if you are trying them for the first time. Soldiers participating in the Army Recovery Care Program are trying things they never considered before and realizing not only that they can do them, but also that they’re very fun.
The ARCP supports wounded, ill and injured Soldiers as they transition back to the force or to veteran status. Adaptive reconditioning programs are part of ARCP and provide Soldiers with sports and activities that help them improve their wellbeing and pursue active lifestyles. This can sometimes lead to first experiences for Soldiers.
“I love working with Soldiers because the vast majority have an innate desire for new adventures and a sense of discovery,” said Marc Cattapan, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the Fort Carson Soldier Recovery Unit, Colorado. “I hear feedback all the time from Soldiers when they express the discovery of a new favorite activity.”
Cattapan noted that Soldiers also express happiness in finding that adaptive equipment will allow them to continue playing sports that they enjoyed prior to injury. Moreover, he described the mental, and potential social boost, a Soldier could experience from having someone to relate to about overcoming life changing injuries.
“Imagine if you were told you could not kayak because of a hand injury in combat and then being introduced to a kayaking instructor who lost his entire arm in combat and yet he still kayaked?” he said.
Sgt. Bryan Jones’ experience had a lasting impact on him. While assigned to the Joint Base Lewis-McChord SRU, Washington, he went wake surfing for the first time at an event put on by a nonprofit at Lake Tapps.
“It was probably the most phenomenal thing I did in my life,” he said.
Water sports were not something Jones experienced growing up, but in the last few months, he’s found himself at multiple wake surfing events.
“Being able to get out on the boat on the water was an amazing experience in itself,” he said.
Jones was surprised by how easy wake surfing was once he learned how to stand on the board. He recalled that the instruction was accommodating and everyone was friendly.
"The best part was the people," he said.
The experience offered multiple benefits. Jones got out and tried something new, met new people and came out of his shell a little bit.
"It brought a lot of excitement to my life in a dark period," he said.
Jones is not the only Soldier who tried wake surfing for the first time while assigned to JBLM; Staff Sgt. Yvonne Estrella also rode her first wave while there.
The event facilitators scaled the activity to the Soldiers’ individual injuries so that they were in their comfort zones. Estrella credits them with helping her get on the water.
“They’re amazing in how they boost up our confidence,” she said.
Wake surfing brought everyone together to share an experience, which was the best part for Estrella. Afterward, she was able to share that same experience with her family, who was happy that she could participate.
Last July, she was behind the boat, rope in hand, wake surfing for her second time.
Sgt. 1st Class Berdi Cekic also tried something new while in the ARCP, but his sport involved ice skates and hockey pucks.
Like many, he had seen ice skating on TV, but it wasn’t an experience he’d had growing up in Ethiopia. He never thought he would end up in a rink, but that’s exactly where he found himself when the Fort Belvoir AR program took a trip to one.
At first, Cekic was certain he would fall if he stepped onto the ice, but then he saw others do it. He found that adaptive skating was safe and convenient for him.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said.
The experience didn’t end there. While at the rink, Cekic played hockey with a team and got a bit of a workout—although, finding his balance while seated and hitting a puck proved to be a challenge.
“It was a great experience for me,” he said. “I was surprised that I could do it.”
Cekic wasn’t the only Soldier who felt that way while trying something new. Spc. Jennifer Davenport’s first experience with paddle boarding was also surprising, but for a different reason.
She is from Florida and jokes that water sports are “kind of embedded” in her. However, paddle boarding is one she hadn’t tried.
While assigned to the Fort Carson SRU, she went on an AR trip that offered many activities. She was taken aback by her willingness to try things she wouldn’t have attempted on her own.
“The team that we had out there were so encouraging and knowledgeable,” she said. “It made you feel really safe trying things you wouldn’t normally try.”
Davenport mountain bikes, but not at the level that they did on the trip, making it another first experience for her.
After a half day of instruction on taking turns and braking techniques, she rode a beginner’s trail that snaked down the side of a mountain.
Looking back, Davenport is happy to say she did something she never even thought to try before.
“Trying new things is probably one of the best outlets for you when you do have a disability,” she said.
Davenport said there are activities that can be performed with injuries that she has yet to discover, but you never know until you try.
“Every injury is about finding your new normal,” she said.
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.