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Paddling program helps veterans dealing with PTSD

By BY WALTER CHIHARA - | Sep 3, 2021

With help from Kihei Canoe Club and Tri-Paddle Maui, the Maui Veterans Center launched a therapeutic paddling program for veterans. “They are all so stoked, and the appreciation is immense. It is a healing experience for all of us,” said Veteran Wendall DeVera.

Imagine the tranquility of gliding along the aqua clear glass of the near shore leeward coastlines of Maui in an outrigger canoe. Then contrast that to the hellfire trauma experiences of the combat veterans of our country dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Over the past year or so, Maui Veterans Center Director Roger Johnston, paddler Alton Sanders and veteran outrigger canoe paddler and supporter Wendall DeVera — all combat veterans with PTSD — have created a program for a dozen or so of these vets to soothe their souls in the traditional Hawaiian canoes in combination with the therapeutic environment of the ocean.

With the cooperation and support of Kihei Canoe Club, the Maui veteran men and women enjoy morning paddles three times a week.

DeVera, who has been an active paddling enthusiast for some 30 years and whose business, Tri-Paddle Maui, donated the paddles and arranged a discounted purchase of jerseys for the vets from Silverback, an environmentally friendly clothing line, lends his experience to the effort.

Johnston and Sanders then organized the group activity, and it has blossomed into a therapeutic savior for the men and women who participate.

Johnston explained, “The idea is to have the paddling coincide with the camaraderie of the military experience.

“Those going through PTSD struggle without the military/tribe experience, and they thrive in this group togetherness. The bonds are lost in post-deployment, and we all long for that connection. Paddling and working together in the canoe recreates that bond.”

DeVera added his perspective: “It’s different going out with the vets — it’s like smelling the roses for them. They are all suffering from mental and physical limitations, but this is therapeutic for them.

“They are all so stoked, and the appreciation is immense. It is a healing experience for all of us.”

Johnston concluded by saying, “The main purpose is to recreate the camaraderie for all. This is so important for re-entering society — as it is difficult for the public to understand — and we’re always looking for new ways.

We would love to find more community involvement in our programs — like fishing or surfing. We certainly appreciate all the support we receive from Kihei Canoe Club and from people like Wendall.”

For more information on the Maui Veterans programs, or if you or your organization would like to help, contact Johnston at (808) 242-8557.