VA NY Harbor Health Care System
Heroes on the Hudson
By Nate Sulat
Friday, July 22, 2011The occasion didn’t seem particularly weighty. Men and women in various brightly colored shirts waited for their turn for a sailing trip, a seat on an NYPD speedboat, or just a chance to get out and paddle around in the Hudson River in kayaks. But for many of the Veterans who attended Heroes on the Hudson – an VA adaptive sports clinic hosted by VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, Veterans Integrated Network 3 and the Wounded Warrior Project – it was more than a simple chance to have a good time in the summer sun just off of Pier 66 on the West Side of Manhattan. It was cathartic.
Paul Yarbrough, an Army veteran and double forearm amputee, wasn’t going to get in a kayak. To hear him tell it, Yarbrough has done so five times in his life, and each time he managed to capsize. But just spending time with fellow Veterans was enough.
“It gives you an opportunity to allow people to try to use equipment that, normally, they wouldn’t think they was able to do,” Yarbrough said. “If you can get out and kayak and you don’t have any legs, think about what you’ll try to do at home. It’s very inspiring.”
Bob Christensen, a Marine Corps veteran, returned from his service in Vietnam with post-traumatic stress disorder in 1969.
“I really had a great time today,” Christensen said. “And it wasn’t just the sailing and the kayaking – it was the whole environment. All the people, the staff here, the staff from Northport VA… it was just a great day.”
Christensen jokes about his figure – “they wouldn’t let me into the Marine Corps in this condition,” the portly Veteran chuckled – and was afraid he wouldn’t get a chance to get into a kayak. Staff improvised, tying together two boats side-by-side so that Christensen could get out in the water with his fellow Veterans.
“A day like today: Did we all benefit from it? Did I benefit from it? Sure,” said Christensen. “I benefitted from it and I had a good time today. But it was just one more day of being with people that I know really care about me.”
For the VA staff – those people that care - the experience was an affirmation of sorts.
“Events like this remind me of how special working at the VA is,” said Jonathan Glasberg, DPT with the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation service at NY Harbor.
“I think Heroes on the Hudson was an outstanding success. We had Veterans travel to Pier 66 to watch the activities as spectators, because they didn't think they would be able to participate in the sports. With the guidance, encouragement and coaching of our amazing volunteer staff, every Veteran athlete got in a boat and successfully participated in sailing, kayaking or both.,” said Leif Nelson, DPT, ATP, CSCS, VISN 3 Prosthetics Clinical Coordinator. “Some of the men and women will continue with these sports and set new goals. For some, their achievements will lead them elsewhere. Whatever the next chapter is for each individual, the ultimate goal of the clinic was to empower these Veterans, and that could be seen in the smiles on their faces at the end of the day.”