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Injured Veterans to Get Fresh Perspective on St. John

Team River Runner veterans and staff say they're looking forward to this week's challenge.Team River Runner is all about healing. A total of 25 wounded veterans, their spouses and staff are at Cinnamon Bay Campground this week to develop kayak skills, build leadership abilities and share resources while having fun.
“I want to learn something new, enjoy the camaraderie and be able to talk with other veterans,” said Mike Proscia, a 45-year-old Iraq war veteran.
Proscia has numerous injuries from when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) went off near his vehicle, but the most visible comes from a paralyzed lung that has left him permanently on oxygen. Kayaking is a good sport to pursue because the kayak has room for the oxygen tank.
He and Team River Runner Director Joe Mornini spent a few minutes Monday discussing the kayaking possibilities near Proscia’s hometown of Phoenix.
“Kayaking for you would be a really good thing,” Mornini said.
Nicolette Maroulis, 33, a wounded veteran from Austin, Texas was excited to learn a new skill like kayaking. She said that too often, wounded veterans identify themselves as “broken.” Learning to kayak will give them another identity, she said.
“This can expand our view of ourselves,” she said.
Susanne Rooney of Worthington, Mass., is the wife of a wounded vet, Peter Rooney, who gets around in a wheelchair because he lost both his legs.
“Being in a kayak is not about legs. It’s about arm strength,” she said, calling the experience an equalizer for her husband.
Team River Runner would like to get wounded V.I. veterans involved in the project, but so far hasn’t had any success in locating any. Leif Lange, a Tampa-based member of the leadership team and a wounded vet who was born on the U.S.-affiliated South Pacific island of Palau, said that the military attracts people from the territories because it’s a way off the island.
Sean Lewis, 27, of Decatur, Ill., uses crutches to get around because he’s missing a leg. That didn’t stop him from an early morning snorkel at Cinnamon Bay and from taking on a leadership role with Team River Runner.
“I’m fundraising and interfacing with the public,” Lewis said.
Team River Runner operates on a shoestring, and leadership team member Gary Clarke, a retired school teacher, had plenty of good words for the restaurants, transportation providers and others that helped make this trip possible. He said that without the help, the trip would run about $35,000.
In particular, he had thanks for Skinny Legs Bar and Restaurant owner Moe Chabuz, who raised $10,000 for the trip when he ran in February’s 8 Tuff Miles race. Chabuz started asking people for a penny, a nickel or a dime as he ran past them. The idea snowballed, and he said that eventually he collected the $10,000.
“These people put their lives on the line. We all owe them a lot,” Chabuz said.
Team River Runner started in 2004 at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. Mornini said it has 25 chapters around the country and has worked with over 2,000 wounded veterans. This is its third trip to St. John.
The group leaves St. John on Sunday.
Funding the trips remains a challenge, and Clarke said anyone who wants to help should visit www.teamriverrunners.org to donate. To ensure that the money goes to find trips to St. John, send an email to garyclarke@verizon.net.

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