Kayaking With Team River Runner on Armed Forces Day

By Mary Fairchild


(Craig Esposito [upside down] teaching the bow rescue to a veteran at Menomonee Park, Menomonee Falls, Wi.)

I needed to fill out the questionnaire for this event last week when I first saw it on Facebook on the CASKA page which read, “Please help us get two more RSVPs for this event…Adaptive paddling–kayakers wanted.”  For some reason I found myself filling out the questions with answers like “fun” and “I mostly like to have fun!”  Later, I wondered if I was taken seriously.

Whether or not I was taken seriously, on Saturday, May 18th, several volunteers joined Conor Schultz, Jeff Fudala, and myself from the Chicago area for a day on the water in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, with Milwaukee area disabled veterans through the non-profit organization  Team River Runner and we had a lot of fun.


(Group picture at Menomonee Park on Armed Forces Day; picture courtesy of Conor Schultz.)

Team River Runner was started up in 2004 by kayakers in the Washington, DC area. It was initially established to help active duty military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan who were recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It is primarily a volunteer non-profit organization run by a council of kayakers and overseen by a board of directors.

Future scheduled activities for the Milwaukee chapter include returning to Menomonee Park and paddling events at the Wausau Whitewater Park in Wausau, Wisconsin. Dates of the events are published at the Milwaukee Team River Runner chapter page and on the Team River Runner Milwaukee Facebook page.


  (Jeff Fadula and Ken Braband co-rescuing a veteran at Menomonee Park.)


Ken shares his story in Milwaukee: “When I attended one of the first TRR pool sessions at the Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, I met a welcoming group of people, including several disabled veterans, a handful of experienced white water kayakers and two recreational therapists. Throughout the rest of that winter, our group met each week at the hospital’s small indoor pool. Using kayaks and gear (some of which is provided by the VA hospital and some from TRR National) the volunteers work with spinal cord injury and post traumatic stress syndrome patients who have expressed interest in kayaking. Now in our second year as a chapter, we are looking to expand our outreach to include patients of the VA’s Polytrauma Care department, as well as veterans who are not currently patients at the VA. The benefits of TRR have as much to do with creating a social network and support system as they do with learning water sports skills that provide an exciting adventure lifestyle that suddenly seemed lost due to injury. The program also encourages family members to participate whenever possible.” Read more here.



Although improvements to protective clothing and equipment for the military have led to fewer combat deaths, there is an increase in the rate of severe injuries, such as loss of limbs. Between March 2003 and February 2012, 6,350 U.S. troops have died and over 47,333 have been wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.


The special seating, outriggers (pictured above) and hand adaptations provide fully adjustable stability, control and safety so we can fine-tune each kayak for the needs of the paddler.

TRR accomplishes its goals through a step-by-step approach in which paddlers learn to control a kayak in a pool, and then progresses to open water, rivers, lakes and oceans.  The national organization of TRR also organizes trips to more progressively challenging venues in Colorado, Montana, Florida, U.S. Virgin Islands and Mexico.


(Ken Braband, far left, and Conor Schultz, far right, are both American Canoe Association certified coastal kayak trainers.)

Saturday’s volunteers included several ACA certified coastal kayak instructors, but volunteers do not need to be certified instructors. Team River Runner provides the guidance from a national program, offers liability insurance, the opportunity to take vets and volunteers on national paid for trips, and arranges for, sometimes pays for the equipment. If you would like to get involved contact the National New Site Program Coordinator Dave Robey at 703-717-1224, dave@teamriverrunner.org.



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