OUT-PADDLING THE DEMONS: Team River Runner Westwater Trip 9/26 – 28 2014 by John W Mitchell – [email protected]

​ The first thing I notice  in running  river  support for  a group of 20  veterans  and staff with Team River Runners (TRR) – many of them combat veterans –  is the  campfire talk is a bit different.   It’s one thing  to hear about a war in the news;  it’s another to listen to people who have been attacked  leading the charge.   ​
​ One veteran on a  late  September trip  through Ruby Horse Thief and  Westwater  Canyons on the Colorado River spoke of four tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.   Interesting  was that he was of obvious Persian background , a second  or third  generation American whom, I  suppose , must have stood out as a target on the battlefield.  He had been shot twice in his six deployments.   Whe n  I asked him and another combat  veteran  who were sitting together  why they returned s o frequently for additional tours, they looked at each other as if deciding whether  I would understand their answer .  I think that I was  a  Vietnam  War era  Navy veteran  was the reason they  filled me in .  The Pers ian- decent veteran  spoke quietly.
​ “You look at who is taking over leading your troops and you have to go back.  It was our job to protect our men for as long as we could,” he said, his friend nodding in agreement.
​ This same esprit de corp s  is evident in every aspect of how veterans participate d  in  our  river trip.   As a volunteer with Colorado Discover Ability, a Grand Junction, Colorado-based nonprofit that provides outdoor recreation experiences  for  disa bled clients, including vets,  I was among five CDA members  manning three rafts carrying food and camping gear for the TRR group   Not every veteran in the group , including  myself,  had  served  in a war zone.  Some had  disabilities  suffered in  peacetime accidents.  But  veterans stick together and nowhere is that more evident  than  in the wilderness, which is  a main strategy for  Team River Runners  to help vets overcome PTSS and to find ways  in to socialize  better  in society. Established in 2004   by kayakers in Washington D.C. to help wounded Iraq and Afghanistan vets who were recovering at Walter Reed Army Me dical Center, it has grown to an expanding  nationwide network of chapters serv ing all vets and their families on America’s rivers, lakes and oceans.  This September trip was a milestone in that it marked the first joint  expedition between  TRR and CDA, which has  outstanding  access to western rivers.
​ “The trip was a natural extension of our mission to provide outdoor recreation  opportunities  to people with disabilities,”   said Ron Lunsford, Program Director with CDA .  “It was a continuation of work with the local Grand Junction VA, which participates in our winter skii ng program.  With the  national TRR  contacts we’ve made through the local VA,  we able to expand these  premiere rafting and kayak  venues  to  vets from other parts of the country.”   The group included veterans from Michigan, Utah and Colorado, as well as representatives from TRR national and local chapters.
​ “The trip was a learning opportunity for us and it went well enough that we are p l anning up to half a dozen more trips with TRR next  year during the river season,” Lunsford added.
​ If your local paddling community would like to get involved with Team River Runners,  contact  Dave  Robey  at dave@team r iv   or   through their website at
There is also a great video out that showcases their work,
John W .  Mitchell is freelance writer  on a wide range of topics from healthcare to craft beer .  He   lives on south side of The Western Slope in Cedaredge , Colorado.   He is  a  ski and rafting volunteer with Colorado Discover Ability and he will publish his first novel “Medical Necessity” in 2015.  You can read more of his  writing  at

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