As requested, the Freedom Alliance team made good on the promise to take our friends from the VA hospital in Richmond, Virginia, river rafting as soon as the weather permitted. Unfortunately, the day chosen turned out to be chilly and wet, but that didn’t seem to matter to the group of nine from the Hunter Holmes McGuire polytrauma unit.
This indefatigable troop is undergoing intensive inpatient rehabilitation for a variety of injuries, including trauma to the brain. The mere suggestion of leaving the hospital for the day is thrilling to these patients, and their therapists recommend occasional outings.
Curtis, a therapeutic recreation specialist, explained, “Especially if people have gone to war and done tours, they haven’t been around people. They’re just not used to it.” He described the Freedom Alliance event as a “jump start” for their social recovery.
We met Curtis and the other therapists and patients at Riverside Outfitters, where we were briefed on safety guidelines and suited up for adventure. The rafts launched into the James River from the Wetlands Park, north of the city, and despite the cool weather, the water was pleasant.
With just enough whitewater to make it interesting—including Class II, III, and IV rapids—the river took us from wooded countryside into downtown Richmond. Lunch was a hurried picnic on Belle Island, which was a POW camp for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and then it was back to the boats.
A Navy sailor named Dave demonstrated his sea legs at one point in the voyage by standing up in the raft. This inspired a therapist to do the same, but the boat was unbalanced and a couple of rafters fell overboard when it shifted.
The rescue bolstered the spirit of the crew, and after their comrades were pulled to safety, two Marines, Jason and Christian, belted out the Marines’ Hymn. One verse, which seems to accurately illustrate the situation, goes like this:
Here’s health to you and to our Corp
Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we’ve fought for life
And never lost our nerve.
Back at the shore, the gang was wetter than a sock in a puddle but all smiling ear to ear—and so were we.