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Watch Wounded Warriers Interact With Dolphins

MARATHON, Florida Keys — Wounded military personnel and their supporters interacted with dolphins Sunday in the Florida Keys to end the Soldier Ride cycling event from Key Largo to Key West.

For Jennifer Mackinday, 46, of Bloomington, Indiana, the experience was a chance to enjoy leisure time with her brother, soldier James Smith, 43, an E4 specialist in the U.S Army, who suffered a traumatic brain injury during his 2004-’05 deployment to Mosul, Iraq.

“The stronger that he gets, the less he needs me,” said Mackinday, who has been the primary caregiver during Smith’s lengthy recovery. “But what we need from each other is to be siblings again, not caregiver and patient.

“So to do something like this together just shows you how much I need my brother and how far we’ve come to be able to be just brother and sister again, and have a real good time,” she said.

Mackinday, Smith and others swam with the dolphins at Marathon’s Dolphin Research Center, sharing dolphin kisses, flipper shakes, high fives and dorsal pulls as they learned behavioral techniques.

“The dolphins are really funny, and they’re a lot like people,” Smith said. “Just imitating what the dolphins do, that was fun, because they do whatever you did, so that was fun to see all the stuff that they’re trained to do.”

Friday, the Soldier Ride participants pedaled across segments of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, ending in Key West for the weekend.

Although many participants are missing one or more limbs after combat injuries, they used bicycles fitted with special adaptive equipment to participate in support of their injured comrades.

Organized by the Wounded Warrior Project, activities were staged to raise public awareness and support for the needs of members of the military who were severely injured while serving overseas in conflicts.

The organization’s cross-country and Keys bicycle trips provide rehabilitative opportunities for injured soldiers.

They also raise funds to help foster independence among those with catastrophic injuries, transport soldiers and their families between home and hospital and develop supportive peer-mentoring programs

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