A Veteran’s Story from the Front Lines
At Heroes on the Water, we are so blessed to have volunteers who believe in our mission and help us serve veterans, first responders and their families. María Castañeda and her husband Rudy are two of the amazing people who show up every day to serve our veterans. Read in their own words how Heroes on the Water makes a difference every day:
My husband Rudy served 9 years in the Army until a near fatal accident left him in a coma. With a variety of injuries that our local VA was unable to treat, we traveled to Audie L. Murphy VA Medical Center in San Antonio, TX for many years.
Appointments for labs, procedures and evaluations had us sitting in waiting rooms for countless hours. While sitting there, we heard many veterans say that all they did was come to the hospital, clinic or doctor’s offices for long periods of time. Many who struck up conversations with my husband would tell him that they traveled from near and far and when they got back home there was nothing for them to do with their time. Audie Murphy had a recreation room but how was that going to serve all the veterans that were looking for something to do with their time? The veterans needed something to do to help with that feeling of hopelessness. They needed something that would engage them and give them back that feeling of camaraderie they missed.
My husband loves to fly fish and as we traveled, he would fish at our destinations. Belonging to a fly-fishing club gave us the opportunity to attend with other members a Fly-Fishing Expo in San Marcos, TX. It was 2014 and in all those years we continued to hear veterans express their frustration that they still had no outdoor hobbies. While at the Expo, we checked out the exhibitors and marveled at the lifelike flies and other accessories. We came upon a booth with a very friendly and welcoming man who asked my husband if he was a veteran. My husband said yes, Army 1/12 CAV. He told us his name – Greg Ramirez – and he had also been in the Army. My husband said he had been trying to find a way to help veterans and Greg asked if he had heard of Heroes on the Water. They take veterans kayak fishing. He told us he participated with the DFW Chapter. He told my husband how to find the website to see if there was a Chapter he could go participate at.
When we arrived at our hotel that night, we looked up the website and found the closest Chapter was in Corpus Christi, TX. Once back at our home, my husband contacted Travis Matthews, Coordinator of the Coastal Bend Chapter. My husband asked Travis when the next event was so we could come and volunteer. Two weeks later at 0430 we got on the road to make the two-hour drive to the event site. Upon arriving we met Travis and jumped right in with unloading kayaks and getting them set up for the participants. Camp was set up after everyone was out on the water. Lunch was prepared for the veterans and volunteers. A good meal, conversations, fish stories and laughter filled the camp. We made seven trips to volunteer with this Chapter learning something new every-time. Rudy then told Travis he would like to start a Chapter in the Rio Grande Valley. Travis told Rudy to get on the website and download the application, fill it out and send it in with as much information about the area you live in. In 2015, we were asked to attend a conference in Florida. At that conference, we were among four others chosen to start new HOW Chapters in our respective communities.
With volunteers already awaiting the good news we hit the road running. We borrowed kayaks from very close friends and our volunteers brought their extra kayaks for our veterans to use at our very first event in May 2015. Rudy had finally found a way to help his fellow brothers and sisters cope with the stresses of their injuries and the constant visits to the VA and those countless hours of waiting.
I’ve seen how it also has helped Rudy with his TBI and other injuries. His reward, the smiles, laughter and camaraderie that this therapeutic program brings to the participants and their family. The pain and struggles are real but so is hope -our participants, Rudy and I know this to be true.
Hope is Real
María is now an Area Coordinator for HOW, and Rudy is the Rio Grande Valley Chapter Coordinator. Every day, they witness the hope and healing power of kayak fishing and the outdoors provided by our no-cost kayak fishing experiences. Currently we have 65 volunteer-led chapters in 30 states and are looking forward to 2021 when we can serve more veterans, first responders and their families. Donate to Heroes on the Water and support those who protected our borders, keep us safe and continue to positively impact our communities. We all need a little hope!