The Ultimate Tropical Vacation for Heroes

Categories: Highlights, Outdoor Adventures, Support Our Troops

In the enchanting country of Costa Rica is a most alluring resort, Los Sueños, which sprawls, elegant and easy, on the Pacific side of the republic.

Within Los Sueños is a community of American patriots, who joins forces with Freedom Alliance to support U.S. military service members. Together, we are able to send heroes, who desperately need some indulgence, to Costa Rica for a playful and abundant tropical vacation.

Having done this since the first Costa Rica Heroes Vacation in 2013, it is now a Freedom Alliance tradition, and we brought 16 combat veterans with us for the fourth go-round this spring.

Our volunteer Carol was at the airport with a bright yellow sign to welcome our guests flying in from all corners of the States. She helped guide the servicemen through customs and then onto vans, which ushered them into the majestic realm of Los Sueños.

Members of the community, and the resort itself, donated condos to house the veterans, as well as golf carts for transportation inside the resort.

That evening, Freedom Alliance board member Gerald Lindholm and his wife, Virginia, hosted the first pool party of the week. This couple was the impetus for the Costa Rica Heroes Vacation, and they organize the volunteers and donors to make it possible.

The welcome party—with 15 racks of ribs and jumbo shrimp, patriotic decoration, and the infinity pool—was just the thing for 16 servicemen who had been traveling all day. Not only the Lindholms, but many of the other folks who donated and volunteered—American and Costa Rican—came out to introduce themselves to the special guests.

For the next several days, we scheduled steady Costa Rican fun. The first day featured Jose’s Crocodile River Tour.

This is an always-popular outing, in which we cruise the Tarcoles River in open flat-bottomed boats, viewing all kinds of rainforest wildlife, such as cranes and exotic birds, iguanas and lizards that run on water, and, attesting to the name of the tour, crocodiles.

Huge crocodiles.

Jose’s co-pilot Jimmy thrilled and terrified all by hopping out of the boat to hand-feed these enormous ravenous reptiles. Remarkably, Jimmy had all his fingers and toes. Not so for all our veterans.

After the river tour, Mike Winget invited us onboard his 65-foot luxury yacht, Bullwinkle, for a cruise up the sea coast. The water (no crocodiles in sight) looked too refreshing to ignore, and many of the men jumped in, some even from the fly bridge.

Then that evening, Bill Royster, CEO of Los Sueños, welcomed us to a private dinner at the Beach Club’s open-air restaurant. Ashley and Gloriana, from the resort management office, presented each vet with a bag of treats from the Los Sueños annual billfishing competition, the Signature Triple Crown Series, along with a Tunaskin tournament hat.

The next day included two hours of zip-lining through the jungle canopy with Vista Los Sueños Rainforest Tours.

Wagons transported the veterans up the mountain, above Los Sueños, at the top of which began a 3.5-kilometer, 12-cable, 14-platform course. Even the men who had jumped out of airplanes in the service thought this was really cool!

Later, the Beach Club beckoned with its free-form swimming pool and Jacuzzi, swim-up bar, and white-sand beach.

Several of the men met for a golf clinic that afternoon donated by the PGA director of golf, Jose Quesada of the La Iguana Golf Course. The men participated in a 90-minute lesson with Jose; then they were treated to nine holes of the par-72, 18-hole championship course.

Bob and Judy Yanover are another couple very involved with Freedom Alliance’s Costa Rica Heroes Vacation. In the Bella Vista neighborhood of Los Sueños, the Yanovers’ condo was the site of our second pool party.

Bob, who owns a 60-foot fishing yacht called Prime Time, has caught and released over 10,000 sailfish in his day! He was kind enough to share his Cuban cigars (available in Costa Rica) with the veterans, who smoked delightedly while soaking in the pool.

Not to be outdone, Judy baked an assortment of breads and desserts for each of the Freedom Alliance condos, and the men enjoyed these treats throughout their stay. This very generous couple catered their party with steaks, salad, twice-baked potatoes, and jumbo shrimp.

Then came the highlight of the trip: nine grand fishing vessels and crew, donated by their owners, met our service members at the marina Thursday morning for the start of two days of fishing.

Costa Rica is renowned for its billfishing, and it is an unforgettable experience we were more than pleased to share with our guests.

Each angler was given a custom Tunaskin Aquatic long-sleeve shirt, featuring art by Dennis Friel Studios. These shirts not only identified the Freedom Alliance heroes, but provided essential sun protection. We also gave each vet his own protective sleeve, which can be pulled over the head and face for extra defense against the elements.

Wiley X, Inc., a manufacturer of military-grade ballistic glasses, donated polarized and mirrored sunglasses to each serviceman. Many of them remembered Wiley X glasses from their combat deployments, and everyone was grateful for the shielding and improved visibility.

The Penny Perfect, owned by Lee Anderson of Api Group, Inc., was one of the boats hosting veterans for those two days. A 62-foot Viking yacht, it is equipped with a gyrostabilizer, which was helpful for Sean, a Marine Corps corporal who is in a wheelchair after an explosion took his legs.

Sean’s ears also sustained damage from the blast, and so he battled seasickness despite the boat’s stabilizer. Still he was able to reel in a sailfish, as was his girlfriend, Callie, who is Sean’s full-time caretaker.

Josh, an Army corporal, was also a guest on the Penny Perfect who had an exciting catch. Since Josh lost his right hand while serving in Iraq, his condo host had loaned him a left-handed fishing reel.

Well, a blue marlin took the bait on Josh’s rod, and he used his prosthetic hook to reel it in. It wasn’t a quick process, but more of an hour-and-a-half struggle, with the ship’s mates pouring water into and onto Josh to keep him in the fight.

As the boat’s captain, Roy, said, “It’s two warriors refusing to give up.”

But Josh finally won.

“The fight with the marlin pushed me harder than I’ve been pushed in a long time,” he said. “I think I’m hooked harder than the fish was! I’ll never be the same: always looking for the next fish, the next trial to push myself.”

The Lindholms hosted another dinner party after the first day on the water. Local performers “Alissa y Scott” brought their music and singing to complement the spectacular night. Many of the donors came to hear the fish tales from the day, and all enjoyed more sumptuous food.

Combat Veteran Ambassador for Freedom Alliance, Nick Kefalides presented Gerald and Virginia with a flag and certificate for their hard work on the Heroes Vacation and their passion for military service members.

Nick spoke to the supporters and his comrades about the importance of this event, which he knows firsthand. As a retired Marine dealing with spine surgeries and a traumatic brain injury, Nick was a guest on last year’s Costa Rica vacation, which led to his involvement as a volunteer for Freedom Alliance.

After another day at sea, our last full day in Costa Rica, each boat reported six to eight sailfish caught and released (a slow day in Costa Rica!).

That night, the Los Sueños resort closed their fanciest restaurant, El Galeón, except to the Freedom Alliance party. Their head chef, Darrell Thomas, prepared a select buffet, which included sushi and prime cuts of meat.

Thanks were given, stories told, memories made.

It was a grand finish and a magnificent farewell to paradise, which is what Los Sueños feels like to us. Of course, it is a beautiful resort—spellbinding even—but it also has its angels.

As one of our servicemen said, “It goes without saying that Los Sueños is an amazing place, but what really made it amazing was the people who were there.”

It truly is the pinnacle of what Freedom Alliance can offer, and it is due to those who give, not only of their resources, but of themselves.

Another veteran described the vacation as “every day waking up in a beautiful place, feeling appreciated by everyone I meet.”

Army Major Robert has received the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts during his 20-plus years of service. He spoke to us about his recent struggles after retirement and how the Costa Rica Heroes Vacation helped him:

“Lately my family has faced many personal road blocks dealing with my injuries, the types of stress common to those in recovery… To have an opportunity to spend so much time with veterans who are going through the same things I am, that we can heal properly together is more amazing than words can describe.”

Rob continued, “Freedom Alliance gave us that opportunity, as did the many amazing donors, volunteers, and folks from the area who gave so much time and love…I have the deepest gratitude for them.”

This is a story, not about a resort vacation, but about extravagant giving.

It’s about what can happen when the giving of thanks becomes so big it cannot be ordinary anymore. It includes the metallic purple of a billfish sail, the lush green of a rainforest canopy, the majestic flight of the great blue heron, and the marine-blue swell of tropical waters.

This is the Costa Rica Heroes Vacation.

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