Disabled veterans ditch wheelchairs for the water

VA Summer Sports Clinic reaches out to vets

OTAY LAKES, Calif. - More than 100 disabled military veterans ditched their wheelchairs for the water Wednesday as part of the Department of Veterans Affairs' 5th annual National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.

The veterans, who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder to multiple amputations, are trying a number of sports from surfing and sailing, to cycling and rowing this week.

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Major, who lost both his legs after stepping on an IED in Iraq in 2006, told 10News, "Lost my right leg instantaneously, my left leg to a fungus."

Wednesday was the first time Major rowed a boat. He sat in a two-man shell with an instructor and took off on Otay Lake -- the same place where Olympians prepared for the 2012 Olympics in London.

"It gets them out there," said Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Elaine Buehler. "Shows them that they can still have an absolutely active life, go out and do anything that they want."

"Every step doing these activities is that much closer to gaining my full independence," said Major, who has tried everything from alpine skiing to skydiving.

Volunteers from the VA, U.S. Olympic Committee and local athletic clubs are leaned on heavily to train the veterans in a number of disciplines. For most of the veterans, the sports are something they never tried even before their accidents.

"I love it. I'm kicking myself, if I could, kicking myself in the butt, ‘Why didn't I try this before?'" said Major.

The clinic is about giving the disabled veterans independence and hope.

"A lot of these athletes will get back and be able to recreate with their families again," said John Register, an Army veteran, Olympian and Paralympian who lost his left leg in an accident.

"You can't just treat the wound. You have to treat the whole veteran," said Buehler.

For more information on the clinic, click here.

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