Wounded military veterans interacted with dolphins as a facet of the Florida Keys Soldier Ride, a trip through the Florida Keys to Key West, that also involved riding adaptive bicycles down segments of the Keys Overseas Highway beginning Friday.
Soldiers swam with the dolphins at Marathon’s Dolphin Research Center, after cycling in the Upper Keys. They shared dolphin kisses with the mammals, giving flipper shakes and getting dorsal fin pulls.
Organized by the Wounded Warrior Project with help from the Keys community, Soldier Ride inspires for participants while raising funds for injured comrades still recovering in American military hospitals.
Retired U.S. Army medic Rachael Rodgers, who had her left leg amputated below the knee, first participated in the Soldier Ride experience in 2015.
“What makes this experience special for me, personally, is the camaraderie with the veterans,” she said. “It’s a very unique network and especially with disabled veterans because, you know, I guess we’re a little more sympathetic toward each other with our experiences.
“Animals that we had the pleasure of swimming with today, they are very sympathetic animals,” said Rodgers of the dolphin encounter. ”They’re very in tune with their senses and in tune with our senses, and so I think that also helps us because it helps ease us.
“You have to find any little bit of joy in any experience that you can,” she said about rehabilitation. “Laughter is truly the best medicine.”
The mission of Wounded Warrior Project is to raise public awareness and support for the needs of severely injured members of the military. The organization’s cross-country and Keys bicycle trips provide rehabilitative opportunities for injured soldiers.
Saturday, the Soldier Ride is to continue from Naval Air Station Key West through the streets of the Southernmost City in the Continental U.S.