Well, this is extremely cool.
Team River Runner is an adaptive sports program that gets veterans in the water and paddling as a form of therapy, both physical and mental. This past September, they took on the bold task of prepping and guiding five visually impaired veterans for a paddle down all 226 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon system.
TRR helped blind veteran Lonnie Bedwell make this paddle back in 2013, setting a record for the first blind paddler to successfully paddle the Grand Canyon. Bedwell was so moved by the experience, he wanted to return and do it again with more veterans. Kathy Champion, Brian Harris, Steve Baskis, and Travis Fugate—all visually impaired vets—spent months training with TRR before they hit the water on the Colorado. 12 days and 226 miles later, they’d all successfully made the paddle.
There’s something here that shows how the power of the Grand Canyon can be felt in ways besides seeing. There are experiences of nature beyond sight that still have the capability to transform, to heal. Bedwell, the trip leader expounded a bit on the purpose and challenges of such a trip:
“I believe we can’t abandon our sense of adventure because we lose our ability to see it, and it has become my goal to help people who live with similar challenges, and show them that anything is possible.
“A question I often get is “How do blind people kayak the Grand Canyon?” Well, it starts with grit. And a lot of preparation. Our other visually-impaired team members—Steve Baskis, Kathy Champion, Brian Harris, and Travis Fugate—practiced hundreds of rolls (flipping yourself back up if you go underwater) and ramped up on big rivers all around the country to prepare. From there, it was all about teamwork and trust. Team River Runner pioneered a system in which a guide in front makes a homing noise that the blind kayaker then follows, as you can experience for yourself in this 360 video. Just like we relied on our squad in the military, we relied on each other out there in our kayaks. Our deployments in Afghanistan or Iraq reinforced our ability to work together and survive as a group, which came to life again on this river.”
Google paired with TRR to put images from the trip on Google Maps Street View, so you can get a close look at the paddle. Click anywhere in the below images to drag the camera perspective around. You also get a little map so you can see where along the paddle the image was taken.