Rob Martinez practices for CDBF with the Wounded Warriors dragon boat race team. The team is looking for more wounded veterans to fill two boats. (Photo by Brandon Iwamoto)By Brandon Iwamoto
When Rob Martinez looked at the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival website, she had no choice but to laugh.
“It says ‘don’t try this if you feel any soreness or discomfort,’” Martinez said. “We are all sore to begin with.”
Martinez, a veteran of U.S. Navy Special Operations, is an alumna of the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the aid and public awareness of wounded servicemen and women. The Wounded Warrior Project, along with the Denver chapter of Adaptive Adventures, is fielding a pair of Hong Kong race boats in this year’s Colorado Dragon Boat Festival.
“That’s why I was laughing when I was reading the requirements, I was like ‘the first three (recommendations) say we’re already out.’”
Wounded by a suspected rocket propelled grenade during the Afghanistan war, Martinez was honorably discharged in 2002 after her injuries kept her from performing her duties with the U.S. military. She suffered a fractured neck and spine, brain injury and numbness. She managed to run away from the destroyed truck with her squad mates in spite of those injuries.
And now, her injuries aren't stopping Martinez from paddling with fellow Wounded Warrior Project alumni.
“You’re all the way out there and you got a team and it’s a team event, you can’t say ‘I want to go back in’ because they’re Army and I’m Navy. I can’t let that happen,” Martinez said with a laugh.
Adaptive Adventures, which caters sports and recreation to physically and mentally disabled people, teamed up with the Wounded Warrior Project to launch a program to compete with their Chicago-based team of Wounded Warrior Dragon Boat competitors.
The boat was funded by the Wounded Warrior Project and requires that at least half of the boat be made up of Wounded Warrior alumni, with the remainder filled with other wounded servicemen and women and disabled paddlers.
“It’s been difficult to find eligible participants who are willing to participate in such a short time frame,” said Chris Wiegand, head coach of the Adaptive Adventures Wounded Warrior Dragon Boat team. The team has almost enough Wounded Warrior alumni to fill the first boat at the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, though the second will still race even if not enough alumni sign up to race.
Regardless, the team has high hopes going forward.
“(We’d like to) beat the Chicago (Adaptive Adventures Dragon Boat Team) team and go on to Minnesota and hopefully to Hong Kong,” Wiegand said. “We’re going see how far we can throw this stone.
“We want to build a legacy team, but worst case scenario (we want to) get a team willing to train for next year’s festival.”
Training a team of disabled veterans presents its own challenges.
“It’s non-traditional in every way,” Wiegand said, who himself deals with disabilities. “We’re not dealing with athletes, but we’re adding athleticism, which feels good (to the veterans).
“It’s a fun process, since there’s no book that tells you how to get 20 different disabilities to paddle together.”
In the meantime, Martinez is enjoying the experience.
“This is great, because you get the camaraderie and the social environment,” Martinez said. “Yeah you’re in pain, but why would you want to quit when you’re having fun and joking around?”
“We’re all going to come out (of this) together,” Wiegand said. “That’s the only guarantee.”
The Adaptive Adventures Colorado Dragon Boat team is still looking for paddlers, specifically Wounded Warrior veterans, for the July 19-20 festival. No paddling experience is necessary. For more information, please contact Head Coach Chris Wiegand at Chris@sportainability.com. Visit the team's Facebook page for more information.