Chattanooga program aims to get veterans, families on the water

Chattanooga program aims to get veterans, families on the water

January 13th, 2013 by Todd South in Local Regional News


What: Paddling classes

Who: Disabled veteran focus, also open to all veterans and family

When: Every other Wednesday, beginning Wed-nesday, 5 p.m.-6 p.m.

Where: Brainerd Recreation Center, 1010 N. Moore Road

Contact: Call Jessie Steele at 423-643-5716 or email her at

Cost: Free

City recreation officials and local veteran advocacy groups are hoping a little splash can go a long way toward helping veterans reintegrate and build post-service bonds.

Beginning Wednesday the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department will hold kayaking, rowing and paddleboarding classes for veterans and their families at the Brainerd Recreation Center.

The classes are aimed at veterans with disabilities, both physical and mental, but are open to all veterans and their families.

Elaine Adams, the therapeutic recreation coordinator with the city, obtained an $18,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs through the U.S. Paralympic Committee.

The grant pays for equipment and training to accommodate paddlers with disabilities. Paddling classes will begin at the veteran's comfort level in the Brainerd Recreation Center's indoor pool.

Adams hopes to have paddlers on open water by April, depending on the weather.

Experienced paddler and instructor Daxton Bacalman said he can train paddlers of all levels and disabilities and wants to get those interested to set goals.

From taking a boat out to do some calm, flat-water fishing to pounding a kayak down whitewater rapids, nearly all of it is possible, he said.

Chattanooga Vet Center counselors and representatives from the local VA Clinic met last week to coordinate information about the classes.

Veteran counselors Taz Randles and Chuck Ayars, both Army war veterans, said the physical aspect of these types of classes can complement work counselors do to reintegrate veterans into civilian life.

Chris Atkins oversees Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at the Chattanooga VA Clinic.

He said of the 1,000 vets of current wars coming to the clinic each year, the majority suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and chronic back pain.

For those veterans, opportunities to do hands-on activities, especially with other veterans, can open new ways to reclaim their lives, he said.

"It's about wellness, it's not just about tracking the disease," he said. "It's about quality of life."

The clinic is part of the VA's Tennessee Valley Healthcare network, which stretches from Fort Campbell, Ky., to Chattanooga. The network can take local patients into programs throughout the system.

The system has therapeutic flyfishing, horse work, drum work and songwriting programs in Murfreesboro and kayaking in Fort Campbell, according to the VA.