Terry Hunt, a blind veteran who receives health care at the Kernersville VA Health Care Center (HCC), mentioned several years ago that he wished he could participate in water sports.
Around the same time, Terri Everett, a Blind Rehabilitation Outpatient Specialist at the HCC, became a chapter coordinator for the national kayaking organization Team River Runner.
Team River Runner helps veterans and their families find health, healing, community purpose, and new challenges through adventure and adaptive paddle sports. It is funded through VA grants.
All Hunt needed to say was, “Let’s get on the water!” and Everett was ready to go. Shortly after they connected, Hunt began regular kayaking with the Triad Chapter of Team River Runner. He has been doing so for the past five years. Everett or other volunteers guide him on the water.
(Photo by Nil Castellví)
Guides use voice commands and music
Guides use several methods to help blind people kayak, including voice commands, music and tethering, if necessary.
Hunt purchased his own kayak last year. He also participated in the 2018 High Rock Lake Dragon Boat Race, where he placed first in one of the races. He will compete in the Dragon Boat Race again this year as one of the lead rowers.
Everett has worked in blind rehabilitation for 38 years. She has participated in adaptive sports for disabled veterans for most of that time. She is a certified, level 2 American Canoe Association kayak instructor with adaptive endorsement.
Hunt has been kayaking for five years and loves every minute of it.
(Photo by Murat Bahar)
New remote guiding system with sensors in vests
This past summer, Team River Runner and Hunt took kayaking to a new level for visually impaired and blind kayakers. They used a new, remote guiding system, developed and engineered by Team River Runner Chapter Coordinator Jim Riley.
The veteran wears a vest with sensors and Everett uses a paddle with a switch, guiding him based on where he feels the sensors. The vibrating sensation of sensors on his sides, chest and back let him know where he needs to concentrate effort.
It was an incredible success. On that day, they paddled four miles, in and out of coves, under bridges, in and around piers and then back to the dock. The guiding system will be featured at the VA Summer sports clinic in San Diego in September.
Reflecting on his experience, Hunt jubilantly declared, “This life vest, having pulsating areas at the right, left, front and back, to let the visual impaired person know which way you want them to go, was awesome!”
(Photo by McKayla Crump)
“How awesome to feel independent!”
“This is incredible because it gave me a sense of greater independence,” Hunt said. He continued, “I feel this life vest is a breakthrough for help in enjoying the kayak trip for the visual impaired person.
“How awesome to feel independent on this day! I think this not only shows Team River Runners’ commitment to visual impaired persons, but also shows VA’s willingness to help our visual impaired community in ways not just connected to health care.
“It is a great feeling to do things you never thought you would ever do again.”
Hunt will continue his kayaking adventures with Team River Runner and beyond. He will attend the VA Summer Sports Clinic in September 2020. There, he will have the opportunity to kayak, sail, ride a tandem bike and participate in other activities. Kudos to Mr. Hunt for the positive example he is setting for other disabled veterans!
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.