By FloridaKeysNewsBureau for SouthFloridaReporter.com, Jan. 10, 2016 – MARATHON, Florida Keys — Interacting with bottlenose dolphins in the Florida Keys provided a form of therapy for 38 wounded military personnel at a stop during the Soldier Ride cycling event that concludes Sunday in Key West.
Soldiers swam with the dolphins at Dolphin Research Center Friday afternoon, sharing dolphin kisses with the mammals as they “showed off” by mimicking movements and giving flipper shakes and dorsal pulls.
For Palmdale, Calif., resident Rachael Rodgers, an injured active duty U.S. Army specialist who lost her left leg, this was her second consecutive Soldier Ride experience.
“Just by the interaction and getting time to spend with battle buddies and fellow veterans, it’s awesome to see,” Rodgers said. “Smiles erupt, everybody has a blast; they won’t stop talking for the next two days.”
Rodgers remarked about the dolphins’ ability to provide almost custom therapy for participants whose injuries ranged from lost limbs to post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“I think the sensitivity is a big thing because they’re (the dolphins) so perceptive of the injuries and people’s swimming abilities,” she said. “Especially for people with brand new injuries who aren’t very comfortable in the water or are hurtin’.
“They (the dolphins) acknowledge and realize that and are going to work around that,” she said.
Before the dolphin interaction experience Friday, participants pedaled across the Seven Mile Bridge, the longest span of 43 that help comprise the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. Some riders, missing one or more limbs after combat injuries, used specially adapted bicycles to participate with their injured comrades.
The Wounded Warrior Project raises public awareness and support for the needs of severely injured members of the military involved in Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, provides rehabilitative opportunities and funds basic comfort items for wounded soldiers upon their return to the U.S.
The cross-country and bicycle trips raise money to help foster independence among those with catastrophic injuries, transport soldiers and their families between home and hospital and develop supportive peer-mentoring programs.