Highland News Leader

Veterans paddle their way to peace on Silver Lake

Silver Lake serves as "healing water" for local veterans

Team River Runner, a non-profit organization that uses therapeutic kayaking to treat veterans, came to Silver Lake on July 24.
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Team River Runner, a non-profit organization that uses therapeutic kayaking to treat veterans, came to Silver Lake on July 24.

When someone dips into the water with a kayak, tranquility washes through their mind, body and soul. Fear and anxiety drift away as the paddler becomes one with the water.

This is the healing philosophy taught by Team River Runner, a non-profit organization that provides non-traditional therapy using kayaks to bring peace to veterans effected by war. On July 24, a group of veterans from Team River Runner explored Silver Lake.

“We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Highland; what a beautiful town,” said John Schmeink a recreation therapist with the United States Department of Veteran Affairs.“The conditions at Silver Lake were beautiful.”

Schmeink, who used to live in Highland, knows Director of Parks and Recreation Mark Rosen, who helped coordinate the day.

The program is ran through the Jefferson Barracks St. Louis Division of the VA. Schmeink said that any veteran can join the group if they are receiving medical care from the VA and volunteers are always welcome. The veterans are helped to face their fears while gaining physical strength, mental stability and a new leisure activity.

“The therapy goes above and beyond the physical aspect,” Schmeink said. “It’s the emotional and social component, getting out of the house, helping to tackle some of the PTSD issues.”

Veterans like Ron Mantel spent the afternoon soaking up the sun and splashing around Silver Lake. Mantel has been involved with the group for eight years, and he stands by the treatment, wholeheartedly.

“It’s healing water in my book,” Mantel said. “It feels good for the body. Good for the soul. Good for the mind.”

Mantel encourages anyone to join and said that the only restrictions are inflicted by the self.

“If you are afraid, you are in trouble,” Mantel said. “But if you are willing to try it, you might be surprised how much fun it can be.”

The group provides kayaks for any type of paddler. Whether it is support from pylons, a specific kind of boat, or just an encouraging smile to overcome the fear of water, Team River Runner tries to accommodate all.

Otis Rice, the chapter coordinator and Army veteran of Vietnam, had his leg amputated on his birthday because of three blood clots. He said his and no other disability should deter any veteran from joining the team and doing what they love.

“The water treats everybody equal,” Rice said.

Rice said the group provides a saving grace, a lasting brotherhood and fun that can thaw any heart.

“In my opinion, the Lord gave me a second chance, gave each one of us over there a second chance,” Rice said. “And we just have a blast. It’s a camaraderie. These are my brothers, and we just have a riot.”