(Lewisberry) -- Wounded military veterans are being encouraged to find ways to stay healthy, despite their injuries. Several of them had a chance to explore different how to do just that during the recent "Pinchot Outdoors Day" by the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation.
Outdoors Day at Gifford Pinchot State Park in York County marked Dennis Leonard's first time fishing in years, and his first time ever in a kayak.
Leonard, an Army veteran from Middletown, Dauphin County, lost both legs serving in Iraq.
"Yeah, it was an IED on the side of one of the supply routes that we were clearing on a route clearance mission," he says. "It went off, and pretty much what you see is what was left when the smoke cleared."
Leonard says he probably would never have even gotten his boat in the water if he were by himself. But he had the help of the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of Heroes on the Water, which uses kayak fishing to help reintegrate and rehabilitate wounded veterans.
The group's Dustin Miller calls it their way of giving back.
"This is not only rehabilitating for them, it's rehabilitating for us," he explains. "We are all kayak fishermen. This is what we do, and it's a very tranquil and stabilizing moment when you're out there on the water."
Wounded vets had numerous opportunities to try out different types of recreation at the Pinchot Outdoors Day -- from adaptive kayaking and rowing, to adaptive bikes.
Bill Metzger of Somerset County made the two hour trip to demonstrate hand-crank bikes for all who were interested. Metzger, a veteran and a semi-paraplegic himself, says they provide great upper body and cardiovascular workouts.
"My shirt says no excuses and that's pretty much my motto is, "no excuses." Just about anybody with any upper arm strength can ride one, and it's pretty much saved my life," he says.
Metzger and the others demonstrating adaptive activities are stressing both the physical and mental benefits.
President of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation Marci Mowery points to a recent survey finding the number one reason people visit their state parks and forests is for stress reduction.
She hopes this first-of-a-kind program for wounded vets will grow in the years to come.
"The idea behind it is two-fold," she explains. "One, it's a way for people to reconnect. The outdoors is a great place to reconnect with family and friends, and build memories. But also we have men and women who are coming back with injuries and the outdoors are a great place to heal from those injuries -- whether they be physical or emotional."
It’s part of the overarching goal to make Pennsylvania's 120 state parks more accessible.
But Dennis Leonard isn't going to let barriers stand in his way.
"If it's something you want to do, you're going to find a way to do it, no matter what your limitations are," he says, adding he just has to figure out a different way to get the same results.
Published in Newsback to top
Support for WITF is provided by:
Support for witf is provided by: