Team River Runner-Shepherd, a therapeutic watersport program for veterans, wrapped its inaugural season Oct. 9 at the Shepherd University Wellness Center pool, completing five months of activity serving 21 veterans.
Three different groups of veterans from the Martinsburg VA Medical Center, as well as veterans from the community, learned to kayak or improved their skills beginning in the pool and then paddled on the Potomac River and Antietam Creek Wednesday evenings, weather permitting.
"During a dark time in my life Team River Runner gave me a place where I felt peace and camaraderie, whichhelped me immensely. TRR helped me beat severe depression," said Morgan Smith, a Navy veteran. "Beyond the camaraderie, there is a joy evident in all the staff and volunteers."
Since its April 18 kickoff, 40 volunteers completed more than 600 hours of service at 34 Team River Runner-Shepherd events. In addition to the pool and open water sessions, the group participated in local and national training, outreach, and fundraising events. Most recently, three Team River Runner-Shepherd volunteers kayaked amile and ran three in the Team River Runner Biathlon in Washington, D.C., Oct. 6.
One of those participants, volunteer Ben Gunn, a Regents Bachelor of Arts senior and Army veteran from Shepherdstown who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he loves working with veterans to overcome boundaries and sharing the world of kayaking.
"This chapter is a way to help veterans find a new outlet that can be used to help deal or cope with the stressors that are affiliated with combat," he said. "One thing that has taken me by surprise is the sense of fulfillment I get from working with vets. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life."
A season highlight for the chapter was when the organization's executive director and cofounder, Joe Mornini, and his daughter and administrative director, Megan, came to a pool session in July and ended the evening by joining the veterans and volunteers for a game of kayak football.
"The Team River Runner-Shepherd chapter is a model other universities and colleges should look to copy," Mornini said. "Veterans at Shepherd taking on leadership in the chapter only underlines the amazing success accomplished in just six months' time."
The chapter has moved to its winter schedule, which consists of fundraising events and twice-monthly pool sessions open to all military.
For more information, contact Tracy Seffers, chapter coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-876-5463 or find the chapter on Facebook.