Skip to comments.America Supports You: Adaptive Adventure Equals Healing for Injured Vets
Posted on 10/30/2007 5:25:51 PM PDT by SandRat
| JOST VAN DYKE, British Virgin Islands, Oct. 30, 2007 A group of injured war veterans on a 12-mile round-trip kayak adventure paused on the shores of this small British island earlier this month for a two-night stay at a campground locally known as Ivans.
Its like being deserted on a tropical island, but you know youre going to be rescued, said Army Sgt. Peter Rooney, who lost both legs above the knee in April when the Humvee he was riding in hit a roadside bomb near Ramadi, Iraq. Peaceful, but at the same time you know youre in a remote location, so it has that edge to it.
One sign verifies that past visitors agree with Rooney. In pieces of coral and shell it says, Ivans = Healing.
Getting to Ivans was the reward for a long day that began with what surely sounded like a strange request to others staying at Cinnamon Bay campground on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands: All legs in the dry bag! yelled Joe Mornini, director of Team River Runner, which organized the trip for the veterans, most of whom have lost both legs serving in a combat zone.
The laughter his command drew only increased with Danielle Pannells response. Have legs will travel! she said, dropping her husbands prosthetic legs into a blue rubber bag. A power boat carried the bag of legs as well as three of the veterans wheelchairs on the trip to Jost Van Dyke.
Danielles husband, Kevin Pannell, is a former soldier who lost both of his legs above the knee while on a foot patrol in Baghdad.
With hardware and passengers settled into their respective vessels, all left Cinnamon Bay on a trek across the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.
About four hours later, the group was setting up camp and figuring out how to negotiate the new beach with its unique sand. The soft, almost powdery sand that makes up Ivans campground was worse for traction than the variety found at Cinnamon Bay.
Everybodys front axles are below the sand, Bill Johnston said of his and the other wheelchairs. Johnston, a former Marine, lost both of his legs nearly 40 years ago while serving in Vietnam.
The chairs, in fact, sank into the sand, making it difficult for Johnston and the others to move. The immediate solution was a plastic tarp that kept the wheels on the sand instead of in it.
The lack of mobility in the sand for those in wheelchairs - Johnston, Rooney and former Marine Christopher Fesmire - encouraged creativity and teamwork, however. Fesmire got a piggyback ride out of the surf from Phil Sayre, a member of Team River Runners board of directors, after snorkeling.
He described the sand to me, Mornini said of the director of the Arawak Expeditions, a local company that guided the international expedition. Well, its a hell of lot more sand than I thought it was going to be. Then the guys that are here say, Well, this is cool. Well get through it. Well make it, but next time, do this, bring this, he said.
To help battle the sand and the chafing it caused, Mornini said, hed dig deep into his bag of parenting tricks for the next trip.
If everybody had two bottles of baby powder, they wouldnt care about the sand, Mornini said. When you get sand on your skin the talcum bonds with the sand, and you brush it all off and its gone, and theres no abrasion.
Its on my list now, he added. Its on my list to get a wheelchair with balloon tires, too.
The second night on the island, the group ate dinner at Foxys a restaurant favored among local residents and tourists alike. Here, the veterans and their wives discovered something thats definitely nice to have while camping so far from home. It wont be found on any packing list, however.
While the group ate in the open-air restaurant under rafters covered with mementoes of past diners, a patron picked up the tab and quietly left, asking an employee to pass along a message of thanks to the veterans.
As everyone packed up the next morning, Mornini declared it a successful trip of yakking and snorking. He reserved his greatest praise, however, for the landing at Cruz Bay, St. John, after everyone had cleared U.S. Customs.
Thats where we just came from, he said pointing out the taxi window at Jost Van Dyke, seemingly forever away. We did great.
Team River Runner is a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
Team River Runner
Disabled Sports USA
America Supports You
Blessings on them..