Seager Marine on Canandaigua Lake hosted Wake for Warriors, which connects military veterans and their families through watersports
CANANDAIGUA — For veterans, some injuries are visible and some are invisible. A water sports program is bringing some brightness to those working their way through the healing.
Wake for Warriors teamed up with Seager Marine in Canandaigua to offer a half dozen veterans the opportunity to wake surf on two world-class wake boats.
“It’s a challenge to try something I’ve never done before,” said Christopher Robinson, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Being around other veterans boosts you up. You have that bond, and you can pick up right where you left off."
This was the first year the event was hosted on Canandigua Lake, after taking place the previous two years on Skaneateles Lake.
“We love this lake and wanted to bring them here to share our little piece of heaven with them,” said Robert Haggerty, marketing manager of Seager Marine. “Seeing the veterans enjoy themselves out on the water makes special memories for everyone. We hope this program continues for years to come.”
“It’s a chance for them to get out and think about something else,” said Bill Rich, board member for Wake for Warriors. “It goes beyond boarding. They get out on the water and relax and have a chance just to open up.”
Rich not only donates his time but he also donates the use of his boat, a top-of-the-line Nautique that he purchased himself. Rich estimates that he’s dipped his boat in seven different states helping around 200 veterans.
The veterans who participate are of a variety of ages, military backgrounds and life experiences.
“I served three years in the Navy, got out and went on to work as an air traffic controller," said Mike Smithson, 61, of Camillus. “At the age of 55 I suffered a spinal cord stroke.”
Smithson is confined to his wheelchair and uses the support of the veterans to encourage him to stay positive about life.
Out in the water Smithson strapped up his life jacket, pulled himself up on the board and was able to be towed behind the boat using his upper body strength in the 3- to 4-foot wake.
“A day like today reminds you that there’s another good day around the corner,” said Smithson, who said he still deals with depression and his situation. “There’s a (phrase) that I heard and I say it to myself all the time: ‘Be bitter or get better’ — you’ve got choices.”
Tisha Knickerbocker, 27, who was a corporal in the Marine Corps when she broke her back in an accident while stateside, is determined to stay active.
“Being out on the water separates you from everything else,” said Knickerbocker, who is an adaptive sports specialist . “Not only does this help us physically but mentally too.”
Knickerbocker medaled in the warrior games and has finished a Marine Corps marathon. In addition, the Syracuse native trains therapy dogs.
“I’ve wiped out pretty hard and I felt some numbness in my feet and next day couldn’t move,” said Knickerbocker, whose background in snowboarding as a kid helped her quickly pick up the new sport. ”You just get back up and keep trying.”
Robinson, 35, is working his way through PTSD. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a combat engineer, getting out of the military in 2012.
“This program has definitely helped me,” said Robinson, who is from Solvay. "Being around other veterans is a big part of it. We all have that bond together. Out here enjoying the water with other veterans — it boosts you up.”