HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — Maria and Rudy Castañeda are the coordinators of an organization called Heroes on the Water.
The Rio Grande Valley chapter of this national organization helps unite veterans, active-duty military, first responders, and their families through kayak fishing. U.S. Navy veteran, Rob Sanchez said growing up he has always spent time outdoors with his family. “I was raised out in Los Indios so we did a lot of activities outside,” he said.
According to Sanchez, kayak fishing has helped him as therapy. He said the experience has also allowed him to connect with other veterans and considers them family. “I got a new group of “family” as we call our veterans,” he said.
Veteran Paul Williams said throughout his childhood, he saw how the importance of mental health was not present in his father’s military experience. “Men weren’t supposed to cry, weren’t supposed to show emotions and so I do have a lot of backlash from his time in the military,” he said. Williams said a lot of times when people who are in need of help turn to medication or drugs. However, kayak fishing has helped him cope with his feelings differently. “It takes away all the stuff around you and gives you the opportunity to relax and connect with what is out there in the world without the use of any sort of drugs,” he said.
Rudy said studies have shown that there are 22 veterans that commit suicide every day. He said his biggest takeaway as program coordinator has been not to leave veterans to feel as if they have been left behind. “If I can save one veteran from committing suicide then I did my job and that’s my main goal,” he said.
Other veterans like Gina Guajardo said becoming part of the organization has helped her unite with her daughter. “My daughter loved it, I loved it, it was just amazing,” she said.