RIVERSIDE PARK, Conn. (AP) — As water laps up against the boat ramp of the Greater Hartford Jaycees Community Boathouse at Riverside Park, veterans and their family members, as well as volunteers and instructors, load up kayaks and rowing shells before launching out onto the Connecticut River on Saturday.
Through a program sponsored by Connecticut Adaptive Rowing Program (CARP), Riverfront Recapture and Mount Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital, veterans are given the opportunity to try out — and take up — kayaking or rowing, free of charge.
CARP has been around since 2005, but this every-other Saturday program for veterans, which runs during the months of June through September, is still in its infancy at just 2 years old.
Co-founder Paige McCullough said that each individual has different needs, based on the abilities they have.
"Not everybody has a physical disability you can see," McCullough said.
She also said she has been able to provide the opportunity of being out on the river to veterans of all ages.
Lynn Swezey, of Glastonbury, served in the Army National Guard from 2010 to 2015 as a specialist, and joined the program after hearing about it on Facebook. She has now been a guide for the program for the past three years.
"I loved it so much that within that same weekend, I had bought a kayak, safety gear and everything," Swezey said.
Being a veteran herself, Swezey said to her, "it means that I can help some veterans that are really looking to become active and spend time with like-minded people. They can share their experiences with a little bit less inhibition."
Others, like Mady Kenny, of Newington, love to be able to spend their Saturday mornings volunteering with the program to provide these veterans with a memorable experience.
"Rowing has been such an amazing thing in my life," Kenny said. "And to be able to share that . it's amazing."
McCullough said if it wasn't for the help of the volunteers — a group of people who give up their Saturday morning for a "bigger purpose," the two-hour program would not be able to happen.
"It really takes a team," she said.