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Taking wounded warriors, our veterans on river adventures

Veterans on the lower main of the Payette River. Photo by Sonny Thomas

The July "Pay It Forward" goes to a new non-profit that's all wet.

Team River Runner is a national organization that just established a Boise chapter last year. Its volunteers take wounded and disabled veterans, give them river equipment, train them on the water and then lead them through adventures on Idaho's rivers.

TRR chapter coordinator, Bob Tracy, invited KBOI 2News anchors Natalie Hurst and Brent Hunsaker along on the veterans' first open water experience on the lower main of the Payette River. It was an incredible ride.

TRR leaders had been building up to that day on the Payette for months. They start with the veterans in a swimming pool.

"What we do is a progression," Tracy said. "From flat water inside in a pool environment to the pond, where we do an intermediate progression, all to build people's skill and confidence before you put them in things where they get terrified."

The day on the Payette starts at Cascade Raft and Kayak, four miles upriver from where they will end their day on Climax Rapids.

Most participants launch from the beach in a standard kayak, but one boat is modified with pontoons - outrigger style - to improve stability for Stephen Pratt, who uses a wheelchair.

"We can find ways to work with just about anybody," said Tracy.

"Water in general tends to be a very soothing, healing kind of environment. The rivers, while not always soothing, do provide an opportunity for folks to focus, to flow, to be in the water," explains Tracy. "It helps build their confidence. It helps with something that's interesting, that's fun, that's challenging, and also provides some comradery and support for our veteran community."

The Veterans on this river adventure have varying degrees of ability. Bill Piper has a disease, similar to Muscular Dystrophy, which robs his lower body of strength.

"It's just balance and upper body strength is all I have," Piper said.

Laurie McConigle has a back injury from her days as an air force flight electrician. She jokingly told Natalie that her biggest fear on the river was drowning. Yet, she was one of the vets who made it through Climax Rapids without flipping over. Afterward she admitted that her "fear" was exaggerated.

Brent exclaimed, "You survived!" She beamed with pride, "Yes. I didn't go in once!"

Even those that did flip still had a great time. Many are hoping to go on other river adventures with TRR this summer and fall.

Because of the work they're doing with wounded and disabled vets, Mountain America Credit Union and KBOI 2News are proud to "Pay It Forward" with a $500 cash donation to Bob Tracy of the TRR Boise Chapter.

"It's just very rewarding to provide this sort of experience to folks that have served us and made big sacrifices ... So it's wonderful to be able to give back."

Know a group or person quietly making a difference in the Treasure Valley? Nominate them for a Pay It Forward! The nomination form is right here on our website.

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