ARLINGTON, Va. — The Fort Bragg Soldier Recovery Unit in North Carolina asks assigned Soldiers about their leisure activity interests periodically. Recreation Therapist Lee Whitford said that one response seems to surface every single summer: surfing.
It’s an interest that recovering Soldiers can act on. The Fort Bragg SRU works with a nonprofit that specializes in adaptive surf therapy to help them catch some waves. Whitford said that it’s a remarkable therapy because it requires use of the body and mind and a good challenge with a rapid reward.
Surfing is more than an activity; it’s also a workout.
“It’s a great way to engage those other muscles that sometimes aren’t [used] with other exercises,” Whitford said.
During the summer, they try to hold two events each month at a beach located a little less than two hours from the SRU.
Staff Sgt. Judson Heard thinks it’s a fine opportunity for Soldiers to be active and enjoy their surroundings while participating in an event away from the SRU. He noted that it could be a chance to meet people and discover common interests.
“Overall, I think it’s a really good experience for all the Soldiers,” Heard said.
Spc. Michael Nattyshack said that the event provided “new friends, great experiences and fun times” and that he would participate again.
Soldiers complete lessons and become familiar with equipment and adaptations while on the beach, Whitford said. They go through all the movements and receive direct feedback.
“Once we feel confident on land, then we go out into the water,” he said.
Fears of the ocean and of limitations can present challenges, Whitford said. They must overcome their fear of the ocean first, and that’s where the instructors and the group come in. The instructors tread water right next to the participants who can feed off the group’s energy. Soldiers are never on their own and know that they can always return to shore.
For Whitford, the best part of the program is seeing a person who hadn’t tried surfing and was only slightly interested in it, realize that they like it and fully embrace the lifestyle. He has seen Soldiers go from thinking they wouldn’t like it to shopping for their own surfboards in a matter of months. That leaves him with one piece of advice to share.
“Always be open to new adventures,” he said.
Heard encouraged others to give the program at try.
“If they can do it, they need to get out here and do it,” he said. “And if they’ve never done it before – doesn’t matter. Come out and these guys will teach you and you’ll have a blast.”