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“One on the guys at this event paddled a canoe back home, but now has no fingers on either hand, wrote HOW volunteer. He said “Tape the paddles to me, I’m going out there one way or another!!!!!!” When he can back in he said, “Best day ever of rehab!!!!” Volunteer Travis Meier realized the amazing determination of our Heroes to overcome challenges to be actively engaged in life again.

Heather Gardner is a recreational therapist at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center. Her specialty is adaptive sports with ties to the U.S. Paralympics. Gardner defines recreational therapy as a way of distracting one’s mind from the toll the body may be taking on and diverting it to something that is pleasing to the mind, body, soul, or a combination of those aspects.tape hand to paddle1

Gardner is not at all surprised at therapeutic breakthrough anecdotes related to kayak fishing. She’s led several groups on HOW outings. The first involved wounded warriors who were missing both legs above the knees. The majority of those participants said they wanted to fish but not kayak. A few wanted to kayak but not fish.

Within 20 minutes, with no encouragement from anyone, said Gardner, everyone of them was in a kayak with a fishing rod in their hands. How does Gardner assess the therapeutic value of that experience?

“I’m sure it was different for each participant,” she said. “Getting away from the hospital and a daily routine can be therapeutic. Putting them in a boat where they are the sole controller can be therapeutic. Doing an activity that is not physically challenging and entirely in their control can be therapeutic.”

According to Meier, “This last event opened my eyes and you can count on me for up coming HOW events. I didn’t know what to expect but I’m glad I got involved. The conversations I had with these warriors did my heart good. Great bunch of guys and gals in the service!!!!”

HOW brings together volunteers and warriors to kayak fish…all leave with so much more.


2014 started with a bang for the Northeast Florida Chapter. We were joined by 20 vets/guests and 32 volunteers for a fun, relaxing day on the water. The weather was gorgeous — one of those days where you are just sitting in your kayak as the sun burns off the morning chill and heats you up until you’re nice and toasty … and sleepy. Well, at least, until that fish slams your pole and you scramble to blink back your dreamlike state and pull in that big old red fish! That’s exactly what happened to many during our event. Fish after fish were reeled in.

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