“I stare into a still, dark world, and that can make you want to be stagnant. That’s not what I want to be. I want to move.”
So stated Steve Baskis, a veteran who was blinded in the act of duty, as he became one of five blind vets to kayak down the Grand Canyon for the first time in history. This incredible expedition was sponsored by Google, who partnered with non-profit Team River Runner, an organization dedicated to providing all veterans and their families an opportunity to find healing, community, and purpose.
Using Google Street View to document their journey, five visually impaired veterans kayaked 226 miles down the Grand Canyon. As their journey progressed, the water became rougher and more dangerous, culminating in class 5 whitewater. Kayaking down rapids is always a challenge, but presents an all new set of challenges for a blind kayaker.
Together with their leaders, who are also veterans, the group created a system for kayaking blind. “We developed this simple system for kayaking blind. My primary guide leading me is creating this verbal reference point,” said Brian Harris, one of the blinded vets who took the trip.
“Whatever noise I make, they try and follow me. Essentially I’m a homing beacon,” explained guide Rachael Ward.
Under the leadership of blind veteran Lonnie Bedwell (US Navy), the team took on the dangerous journey in order to help themselves heal from the physical and mental trauma of their tours of duty. They felt that by taking on such a hugely physical challenge, they could recapture the sense of teamwork that you get from being in the service.
“In the military your life depends on those around you, and that extends out here. You’re putting your life in their hands once again, and they got you,” said one participant.
The team also enjoyed exploring the canyon with help from their sighted guides, observing the different geological aspects, colors, and temperatures within the massive natural structure. This ability to feel and experience their journey helps the blind break free from the darkness of their world and fully immerse themselves in the moment.
“I am hoping that others realize is that what’s within them is bigger than their limitations,” said Rachael.
Being a part of something bigger than ourselves is an important part of being happy, and for retired service people, that desire is even stronger. This is the sort of empowering journey that can truly help inspire others to go after what they want without fear. If these brave vets can kayak down a raging white water river, surely we can accomplish our goals, too!
Watch the incredible video below, and don’t forget to share.
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