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Injured Veterans Find Freedom, Thrills on the Water

Putting injured veterans back into sports they played prior to their injury or getting them to try new sports is Jamie Kaplan’s goal. He is a recreational therapist at Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital and coordinates the adaptive sports programs.

“You’re looking at a group of ultra-competitive men and women,” Kaplan said. “They got into the military because they like being outdoors, they like being active, they like doing sports and we want to show them that post-injury they can continue to do those things.”

More than three dozen veterans signed up to ski Sunday at the Adaptive Water Ski Expo on Seminole Lake in Pinellas County.

Kaplan said water sports are an excellent way to get injured veterans reintegrated into sports.

“Everyone is equal on the water,” Kaplan said, adding that adaptive equipment allows even quadriplegics mobility to water ski.

Former Army staff sergeant Patrick Crockett, Sr. had never gone water skiing until after being injured. It seems counter-intuitive that he would try a sport like that after an injury, but he said he challenged himself because he was “sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

“The biggest fear was dealing with the pain,” Crockett said, adding that he’s had several disks replaced in his neck. “I’ve always been tentative about doing any activities.”

But on Sunday, Crockett was back to do more skiing because despite the pain, it gives him a thrill. He hopes to inspire other veterans to come out and experience the same thrill.

The James A. Haley VA Hospital will host the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in 2013. Adaptive water skiing will be one of the demonstration events for the first time in the history of the games. In all, the Wheelchair Games will include 18 events and attract more than 1,000 athletes from throughout the United States.


Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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