- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2008

Wounded soldiers and Olympic kayakers will take the plunge in a whitewater-rafting race Saturday in Garrett County, Md., to raise money for veterans’ rehabilitation.

Team River Runner (TRR), a nonprofit organization that promotes kayaking as therapy for wounded veterans, is joining paddles with Adventure Sports Center International of McHenry, Md., to hold the charity event.

Soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Olympic kayakers and canoeists - including many from overseas - will race down Adventure Sports’ 1,700-foot manmade whitewater course in rafts sponsored by local businesses and organizations. They hope to raise $10,00 in sponsorships that will be used to set up more TRR groups across the nation.

Adventure Sports’ facility is at the summit of Marsh Mountain, near Deep Creek Lake in far Western Maryland.

“This is a great chance for TRR to paddle with the world’s top paddlers,” said Adam Pratt, a spokesman for Adventure Sports. “We hope to raise awareness for TRR.”

Both groups described the race as a pilot event that will hopefully lead to more successful fundraisers in the future, spokesmen said. “We want to get the athletes jazzed so that next year can be even bigger,” said TRR head Joe Mornini.

TRR was started in 2004 by Mike McCormick and Mr. Mornini, two kayak enthusiasts who believed their sport could be adapted for people with disabilities. They decided to work with some of the thousands of wounded veterans who come through Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District.

The friends were able to get their program up and running with the help of another friend who is a doctor at the hospital and with kayaks donated by local sports stores. Since then, TRR has spread to 15 different satellite programs across the country, each run by volunteers and ex-students of Mr. Mornini.

TRR specializes in a technique called “adaptive paddling.”

“You adapt the instruction, the goals and the equipment for individual needs, said Mr. Mornini. “The group uses special mounts and connective devices to allow disabled athletes to paddle effectively. Mr. Mornini said one veteran with limited mobility in one arm was able to keep up on a 2-mile paddle with the help of a paddle-mount. “That’s what’s so freaking cool about this,” Mr. Mornini said. “It gives them independence.

TRR’s mission is for “health and healing,” Mr. Mornini said.

Paddling helps with mobility, stamina and even some emotional trauma like post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

“Soldiers have told me that kayaking is the only activity that gives them the same emotional energy as live combat,” Mr. Mornini said.

Often soldiers dealing with stress will turn to the sport as a positive outlet for their energy, he said.

Troy Crawford, a veteran who served in Iraq, said he was told by physical therapists to stop therapy and “just go kayaking.”

Mr. Crawford, who served with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division before being injured by a roadside bomb, said TRR has helped him tremendously. “Before I started paddling I couldn’t even touch my toes,” he said.

TRR does not promote any kind of agenda, Mr. Mornini said.

“It’s not political,” he said. “We are about healing.”

The most fulfilling part of what TRR does is helping veterans to have fun and get back in the game, he said. “When they are in the water, nobody knows they are amputees. They are kayakers,” he said. “It’s very cool.”

The Olympic athletes will be taking a break from the 2008 American Open of the Canoe & Kayak World Series. Athletes from the U.S., China, Canada, Switzerland and Slovakia will be competing in slalom races in Adventure Sports’ artificial river.

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