Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Veterans Kayak Football Challenge

By Ryan Pepper, ACA Ohio State Director

On August 9th the American Canoe Association (ACA) and Team River Runner (TRR) joined forces to put together the first-ever outdoor Veterans Kayak Football Tournament in Canton, Ohio at Willowdale Lake. The purpose of the tournament was to honor our Veterans in a fun and unique way while at the same time demonstrating the benefits of paddlesports to a wider audience. 

Approximately 40 Veterans made the trip to Canton from six different states, as far away as North Carolina. Some of the men and woman were highly skilled kayakers while others were new to the sport.

Team River Runner is an organization of Veterans helping Veterans through kayaking. Many of their members have disabilities due to their service to our country. These disabilities include things like PTSD, amputations, blindness, and paralysis, although you could never tell once they’re out kayaking. 

We set up two fields that were approximately the size of an Olympic pool and divided the Veterans up into eight teams and two divisions. We played a round robin style tournament with the winners of each division playing in a championship game. Ultimately the TRR team from Walter Reed Hospital beat team RamRod, the TRR Team from Shepherdstown West Virginia. It was a close contest with Walter Reed scoring in the last two minutes to win it, 4 - 3.

We accomplished the goals we set for the Kayak Football Tournament, and more importantly, I believe the Veterans who came to Willowdale Lake felt honored to be there, and those of us there were honored by their presence. Many who came to watch had their eyes opened to a whole new world of paddlesports. 

What I didn't expect was the effect the tournament had on everyone there. It demonstrated the power of paddling: the power this sport has to bring people together from all walks of life, inspiring laughter and good times. The tournament demonstrated how paddling can be a tool in healing the human spirit. Holding a kayak football tournament like this will never change the world, but for one day it made a lot of people smile, laugh, and care about the sacrifices others have made for them.

As Joe Mornini, Executive Director of Team River Runner, said at the end of the event, “We put a lot of butts in boats today and that's always a good thing.” Thanks, Joe. The day was a great success thanks to your efforts.

We can't wait to do it all again next year! 

Interested in learning more about adaptive paddling? Click here to check out the ACA's program. 

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