For these wounded warriors, a weekend on Cape Cod helps ease their pain
SANDWICH, MA - “This is so great!” bubbles Bethany Wolf of Fairfax, Va.
She has just climbed out of a 1960s classic Ford muscle car at Sesuit Harbor Marina in East Dennis, Ma. She walks past an honor guard of retired veterans and onto a gangway that descends to the charter fishing boat Albatross. A bagpiper on the dock plays anthems from each branch of the service, and a crowd of onlookers gathers to watch.
“I rode over here in a Shelby Cobra! That’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid.” Bethany, who is 20-something, is part of the first ever Wounded Warrior Weekend on Cape Cod, held Sept. 17-19. She is one of 14 vets from ten states who made the trip to the Cape to experience bonding, camaraderie and fun. They camped, fished, kayaked and golfed – and they also healed, if just for a little bit.
The Wounded Warrior Project and Disabled Sports USA teamed up with CAPEable Adventures Inc. and the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands (RHCI) to organize the weekend.
“The Cape is so full of natural beauty,” says Craig Bautz, 46, founder of CAPEable and coordinator of RHCI’s adaptive sports and recreation program. “The activities we offer can help these incredibly brave men and women achieve a sense of normalcy.”
Bautz’s wife, Mary Patstone, who also is RHCI’s director of development, spent more than a year raising money, enlisting volunteers, and working through hundreds of logistical issues to make the weekend work.
“Craig and I have wanted to do this from the very first year we started,” she says. “We didn’t have the resources or manpower to do it then. But now we know how. We definitely want to keep this going.”
In an instant, a life is changed
A volunteer helps Bethany Wolf aboard the Albatross and she sits down next to a young man wearing an Airborne Division jersey, number 82. She and Vincent Mannion-Brodeur, 22, of Hyannis, MA, shyly, tentatively exchange greetings. He struggles with words, so his stepfather, Jeff Brodeur, a Korean War vet, gently steps in.
On March 11, 2007, Vincent and his squadron, part of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, were on patrol in Takrit, Iraq, searching for insurgents. They came upon a suspicious house. When the squad leader opened the front door, the house exploded.
Most of the guys near Mannion-Brodeur were killed. He was critically hurt and suffered severe brain injuries. He underwent a series of surgeries and suffered two strokes. And it’s not over yet: in October, he’s scheduled for more brain surgery.
By now the Albatross has reach its fishing spot in Cape Cod Bay. “Let’s do some fishing,” Wolf says, and stands up to bait her hook.
“We’re all bonding”
Nathan Dewalt, 22, from York, PA, is fishing in his wheelchair from the stern of the Albatross. Rob Person, from Raeford, NC, is fishing from the bow, slightly uncomfortable because his left leg was amputated below the knee. Two different guys. One Army, one Navy. One white. One black. Two different stories to tell.
Dewalt has figured it out. “Everybody’s different,”” Dewalt says. “Everybody’s got a different story. But we’re really all the same. I’m making new friends and we’re all bonding. This is a great event.”
Person echoes the sentiment. “I love this,” he says. “It’s a way to let your mind go free.”
“How do we expand the circle?”
Carol Sim has waited for this day for three years. The outgoing president and CEO of RHCI is on board the Albatross with her husband, Bill. Carol stands behind the wheelhouse taking in the scene. “I’m just here to cheer lead,” she says.
Three years ago, a question kept nagging Carol. “How do we expand the circle?” she asked herself. “In other words, how do we expand our level of care? We’re good at acute rehabilitation care and outpatient rehab. But beyond that? How can we help our patients regain some sort of normal life?”
The answer turned out to be an expansion of RHCI’s long-standing adaptive golf program. In 2007, RHCI partnered with CAPEable to create RHCI’s Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program, adding new activities and venues to its popular golf program. With CAPEable organizing the activities, the program filled a growing need on the Cape by helping the physically and mentally challenged participate in sports and outdoor recreation.
“That was it,” Sim said. “That was the start.”
“Can you eat this?”
Chip Carroll and his wife, Shawney, own the Albatross. He’s active Air Force; she’s retired Air Force. Between them both, they’ve logged almost 50 years of service.
So when RHCI came calling, the Carrolls never hesitated. “Absolutely, count us in,” Chip recalls. “Whatever you need.”
Chip’s “day job” is flying huge Air Force transports packed with military gear into war-zone hotspots like Kandahar and Kabul in Afghanistan. But on this day, he helps bait hooks, unhook fish, and chat up his guests of honor.
“Can you eat this?” someone asks after landing a sand shark.
“Well, some people like them,” Chip says. “I guess the English like them for fish and chips. But here’s the thing: Sand sharks excrete their urine through their skin, and I just can’t get past that mental image. So no, I don’t eat them.”
“We almost made it”
It’s 4:20 p.m., and the Albatross nears Sesuit Harbor.
Bethany Wolf packs up her gear, exchanging phone numbers and e-mail addresses with a few people. And, finally, she lets down her guard.
She was a medic attached to a squadron of Marines on patrol in Anbar Province, Iraq. One day they engaged the enemy and got trapped in a fierce firefight.
“The guy in front of me goes down,” she says. “So I grabbed him and threw him up across my shoulders. We started for the rear, and we almost made it. But right then, an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) explodes off to my side, and the next thing I know, I’m on the ground and can’t move.”
Grenade fragments sliced through her spinal column, leaving her paralyzed. Months later, doctors at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore finally repaired the damage, and Wolf could walk again. The Albatross docks and Wolf stops one of the volunteers.
“Well, I just want you to know how special this has all been. I just don’t know how to thank you,” she says.
“A special kind of healing”
In addition to the fishing trip, Wounded Warriors and their families tried out cycling, kayaking, golfing and relaxing at the beach. At night, they gathered around a huge bonfire at the campground, making s’mores, trading stories and sharing their gratitude for the weekend.
“It was amazing to stand with the other volunteers at the edge of the circle and know that a very special kind of healing was taking place,” says Patstone. “It was an honor to be part of this experience.”
As time for wrapping up the weekend approached, everyone pitched in to break up camp and load equipment. One of the soldiers jokingly asked Les Perry, park ranger at Shawme Park in Sandwich, how much they owed for the use of the campground.
“Son,” Perry replied, “you paid in advance.”
The Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands provides comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation for Cape Cod and Southeastern Massachusetts, with specialty programs in stroke, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, joint replacement surgery, amputation, multiple trauma, and complex medical conditions. RHCI also offers extensive outpatient therapy and rehabilitation physician services at centers in Sandwich, Yarmouth, Orleans and Plymouth. RHCI for Children Eileen M. Ward Rehabilitation Center is a regional resource for children with a wide range of needs. RHCI is part of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, which includes the flagship Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Shaughnessey-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital in Salem, Rehabilitation Hospital of the Cape and Islands in Sandwich, Spaulding Hospital-Cambridge, plus 23 outpatient centers from the North Shore to Orleans, and three skilled nursing facilities in the Boston area. www.rhci.org
- Contact Information
- Carole A. Stasiowski
- Director of Community Relations
- Rehabititation Hospital of the Cape and Islands
- Contact via E-mail
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