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Veterans group makes 160 mile trip from Mount Vernon to Marietta in kayaks

Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 8:02 PM EDT
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MARIETTA, Ohio (WTAP) - After six days and 160 miles, a group of kayakers with Paddle for Heroes arrived in Marietta on Friday. They came all the way from Mount Vernon, Ohio, camping along the way. To make sure the trip was a safe success, a small team of people followed by roadway.

Paddle for Heroes aims to help veterans, first responders and others get on the water through paddle sports.

Members say paddle sports like kayaking, paddle boarding and canoeing can be therapeutic for people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“There are studies out there that show being outside, being in a kayak is really good for PTSD and mental things of that sort. so it’s really good for soldiers and first responders that have experienced trauma in that way,” said Joey Butts, the community outreach officer with Paddle for Heroes.

While the organization raises awareness for the mental health benefits of paddle sports, they also work to improve accessibility. In 2019, they raised $35,000 for the second ADA compliant dock in Ohio. It’s located in Ariel-Foundation Park in Mount Vernon.

On top of their work in healing and accessibility, Paddle for Heroes also cleans rivers.

This year is the fourth year Paddle for Heroes has made the trip to Marietta from Mount Vernon, though it would normally have happened in May. Like many other things this year, it was delayed by the coronavirus and some flooding. While the group has been bigger in the past, this year, the group had its first woman make the trip. At 59, she’s also the oldest person to have made the 160 mile journey with the group.

Butts’s 13 year-old son also took on the 160 mile paddle. He’s the youngest person to have made the journey with Paddle for Heroes.

Anyone is welcome to participate in Paddle for Heroes events, Butts says.

This year’s trip was mainly to raise awareness for their organization, but a chase team member said they were able to raise a few hundred dollars at various campsites along their way.

Butts says The Fourth Annual 160 Mile Paddle from Mount Vernon to Marietta is dedicated to William Gaines Jr., a United States Marine who was killed in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983. He was just 21 years-old. According to a news release from Paddle for Heroes, the bomb that killed him was the largest non-nuclear bomb ever detonated. It killed 241 marines, soldiers and sailors and was the largest loss of life for the U.S. Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Butts carried a quote with him from Gaines during the trip, which he says he found very powerful.

“I believe in our mission here, this is a matter of principle, not politics or money or even lives. It’s the principle of freedom, of peace for the majority. If they see that our word is honorable and that we are willing to die for the freedom of others, then and only then will we have died honorably and justifiably,” wrote Gaines in a letter.

A park is being built in honor of Gaines and the many other men and women who died in the attack. Paddle for Heroes plans to donate all the money they raised during their paddle to the construction of that park. Butts says you can donate to that cause through their website as well.

Paddle for Heroes big project though, is building up a fleet of kayaks and canoes, so that any veteran can join them on the water.

“If a veteran wants to come out on our events, he or she can come out and they can bring a family member as well” said Butts.

Copyright 2020 WTAP. All rights reserved.

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