MARATHON (CBSMiami/FKNB) – Bottlenose dolphin interactions in the Florida Keys provided physical and emotional therapy Sunday for a group of injured American veterans, at the conclusion of their three-day cycling event. Project Wounded Soldier Down the Keys’ Foreign Highway.
Soldiers, whose injuries range from limb loss to less visible psychological injuries, visited the Dolphin Research Center, where warriors in all stages of physical rehabilitation and spirit has been with dolphins for over 25 years. The center’s founder and CEO is a Vietnam veteran.
The team studied marine mammals and their motivations for different behaviors. Veterans and dolphins have shared kisses, head shakes, high claps and even banana tree-planting and back-pull moves in the water.
This is the second enlistment event for US Marine Captain Andrew Hairston, who had his left leg amputated below the knee following an injury overseas. He says the WWP activities help him and his team of active service members build confidence and get started with new experiences.
“They really forced us to step out of our comfort zone and do things that we wouldn’t normally do,” says Hairston. “I mean, how often do you get the chance to swim with dolphins, play with them, and whatnot?”
“Boys who don’t normally swim will jump into the water to swim with them, so it’s a great opportunity to step out of your comfort zone,” he adds.
A first-time Soldier Ride, veteran Joseph Beaudry, a retired U.S. Navy Level 3 Officer, encouraged other vets to join the experience regardless of when they served.
“I’ve been out of the military for 20 years; Why I didn’t reach out and do any of these things is beyond me,” said Beaudry. “It really makes you feel like you’ve done the job, and some of us never had to as a wounded veteran.”
On Friday and Saturday, the warriors cycled through sections of the Florida Keys Freeway abroad, including the iconic Seven Mile Bridge, and into Key West.
Soldier Ride is organized annually by the Wounded Warrior Project to raise public awareness and support the needs of seriously injured members of the military who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and conflicts in other foreign countries. Funds raised help develop peer mentoring programs, promote veterans’ independence, and arrange for needed transportation between home and the rehabilitation hospital.
Community organizations such as the Dolphin Research Center help support the initiative, providing free or reduced-cost services. The dolphin show is sponsored by the Charles Evans Foundation.
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https://miami.cbslocal.com/2022/01/09/wounded-warriors-interact-florida-keys-dolphins-therapy/ Wounded Warriors Interact with Florida Key Dolphins as Therapy – CBS Miami