Name:  Team River Runner, Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (TRR)

Team River Runners Mission:   To provide all veterans and their families an opportunity to find health, healing, community purpose, and new challenges through adventure and adaptive paddle sports!

History:  TRR was founded in 2004 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.   It now offers weekly paddling sessions in more than 60  locations across the nation.  TRR is more than an adaptive sports program; it is an opportunity for veterans, their family members, and everyone in the community to participate  It’s an opportunity to enjoy nature and realize its social, physical, and emotional benefits, whether it’s tackling whitewater rapids or paddling on peaceful flat-water. It’s an environment that facilitates connection, allowing veterans to reunite with their families and forge relationships with those who have endured similar pain. TRR creates purpose and community service. TRR veterans are on the river to recovery.
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QL+ engineering students from the University of Dayton are working on a Kayak See Behind device to help TRR veteran kayakers who are dealing with PTSD.  The device will alert kayakers to kayaks approaching them from behind.  A QL+ team from the University of Cincinnati is creating a Kayak Balance Assist Device to help TRR veteran kayakers with mobility or balance issues get in and out of their kayaks safely and confidently.
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TRR began In 2004 when co-founder Joe Mornini and kayaking buddy, Mike McCormick, recruited friends and local paddling businesses to support their idea to teach whitewater kayaking to wounded soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  The Greater Cincinnati/NKY chapter has been active for about six years.

What are some of the most significant hurdles TRR paddlers have overcome?  Some of the most inspiring stories we hear come from participants in Team River Runner’s Outtasight Series.  The Outtasight series seeks to get blind and visually impaired butts in boats!  There is a large population of blind and visually impaired (B/VI) veterans who can benefit from outdoor recreation such as paddle sports and we continue to reach more of them with this Outtasight series!  To guide and support the B/VI participants, TRR teaches sighted disabled veterans to be their instructors which increases the camaraderie and training.
We recently started a branch of the Outtasight series called KAOS(Kids Are OuttaSight), where veterans teach kayaking to blind and visually impaired children! This program allows veterans to use their paddling skills learned through TRR to help those in their community!
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QL+ Teams of student engineers from Cal Poly and Colorado Schools of Mines designed and built Blind Kayaker Slalom Courses for TRR blind veteran paddlers.  These devices allow blind paddlers to race on flat water without a guide.

What do TRR Veterans do for fun? We put butts in boats!

What motivates you?  Paddling skills learned on a river often have a metaphorical parallel in the real world that can help veterans overcome daily obstacles.  The camaraderie in our community of veterans and volunteers is unparalleled.

How will the QL+ device the students are creating, improve your quality of life? Greater Cincinnati/NKY has a beloved veteran, Skeeter Williams, who has balance issues that are related to a TBI. We are hopeful the device will aid Skeeter’s coordination and reduce dizziness on the water.  We also have several paddlers dealing with PTDS.  The Kayak See Behind Device will gently and gradually alert these kayakers to approaching kayaks so that they are not startled.

What has it been like so far, working with QL+ students and participating in the program?  The enthusiasm and passion for helping veterans that Amber Humphrey embodies are inspiring by itself.  Students are using technology to find solutions that reduce the limits placed on veterans with disabilities.  These projects bring dignity and opportunity for disabled veterans and that fills me with a lot of hope.

Do you have any words of wisdom for our QL+ Students?  Team River Runner has veterans who have paddled 226 miles of the Grand Canyon blind because of innovators like you.  Devices created in your labs will change lives.  Also, if one person can paddle the Grand Canyon blind, what obstacles can you not conquer?  Team River Runner has several veterans who have made that trip.  Know that the work you do inspires feats of greatness.
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The goal of our Challenger Salute is to honor the service and sacrifice our Challengers made for our country.  We are very grateful that they have agreed to participate in our program.  Their participation is helping us to “build” better students.  They are providing our students with real-world experience and arming them with the tools they need to succeed once they graduate.