Army Veteran and Team River Runner participant Sang Nguyen on Great Falls of the Potomac
All photos by Mike Kircher
For five years I’ve been a volunteer instructor with Team River Runner, a non profit organization that provides kayaking as therapeutic recreation for injured Military Veterans . TRR’s motto is “ Health and healing through paddling”. Witnessing that health and healing occurring for people who have sacrificed so much makes me very proud of our paddling community and is a testament to the beauty and power of the river experience.
Some TRR Veterans become avid paddlers with an unshakeable passion for the sport. What is absolutely incredible to consider is that many of those men and women begin their involvement with the program while they are full time hospital patients receiving care for serious injuries. It takes courage and a very open mind to begin learning an adventure sport like kayaking while being in such a vulnerable state.
My friend Sang Nguyen is an Army Veteran who began kayaking with Team River Runner while he was receiving care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2004-2006. I can recall so clearly the challenges he faced at that time. Between that time period and now I have witnessed him transform himself from an injured Veteran working to regain a normal life into a pharmacy student, class 5 paddler and joyful, inspirational person.
A few weeks ago Sang travelled to Washington DC from his home in Louisiana to take on the challenge of kayaking the Great Falls of the Potomac, an iconic and intimidating series of class 5 rapids located only 10 miles or so from the hospital where Sang was once a patient. I was honored to show him the lines and share an experience with Sang that he described as one of the most meaningful in his life to date. The day of our Great Falls run was the Sunday after the Great Falls Race. The weather and the level were perfect and the crowds from the day before were gone, leaving the river to the two of us. On the way to the river we spoke about the trajectory of Sang’s life and his development as a kayaker. We also told stories about other kayaking trips and milestones he had achieved. Whenever I’m leading someone on a river that is a big jump up in difficulty for them and contains serious hazards, I always look for signs of indecisiveness or lack of preparation on their part that might compel me to suggest taking on that particular challenge another day. Sang was calm ,determined and had confidence in the paddling skills he had learned with TRR. I knew we were good to go for Great Falls that day. Sang had a fantastic run. He went through the first rocky , technical rapid of the falls upside down, calmly rolled , regrouped, and ran the next two drops, including the 25 ft Spout with style and confidence. I’m proud of you Sang!
A quick note about Team River Runner: TRR uses many diffferent paddling disciplines and a safe, methodical approach to instruction in order to create fun and theraputic recreation for injured Military Veterans. Class V paddling is reserved for TRR Veteran's who have completed their Military service and have attained a skill level in kayaking to join their former instructors as equal participants in river adventures that are seperate from TRR's sanctioned trips and lessons.
TRR also relies heavily on donations by individuals who would like to share the healing power of Kayaking with others. If you you'd like to donate please visit: www.teamriverrunner.org
Sang and I scouting the Spout
Sang and I tackling U Hole and Sturn