Wednesday, May 30, 2018

METLIFE Veterans J/22 Regatta brings together Service Members

J/22 MetLife veterans race- Sail Newport Volvo Ocean Race (Newport, RI)- The MetLife Veterans Regatta, a therapeutic event for veterans of active service duty, brought together 12 veterans from around the country for training and racing at the Volvo Ocean Race Newport Stopover on Monday and Tuesday- May 14 & 15. Racing in Sail Newport's fleet of J/22 sailboats, the veterans' crews also included a representative of race teams Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Team Brunel, Dongfeng Race Team, AkzoNobel and Turn the Tide on Plastic.

Inaugurated during the 2014-’15 Volvo Ocean Race Newport stopover, it is the second time that MetLife and Sail Newport have partnered to host the regatta. Warrior Sailing, a program of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Sailing Foundation led by Ralf Steitz, Corey Kapes and Ben Poucher was also involved in recruiting and training sailors for the event.

“MetLife is proud to work with Sail Newport to bring this exciting event to our veterans’ community,” said Kishore Ponnavolu, President, MetLife Auto & Home. “MetLife has a long legacy of supporting the veterans’ community through various programs and initiatives and we were happy to help make this racing experience truly memorable.”

J/22 Metlife veterans regatta- Sail Newport Volvo Ocean RaceNearly all veterans suffer some form of post-traumatic stress disorder that, in the worst cases, can lead to the veteran withdrawing from society. The Warrior Sailing program offers great opportunities for the veterans to experience life on the water despite their injuries.

Team Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking addressed the veterans before racing and stressed the importance of teamwork. Bekking said that his father fought for the Dutch during the Indonesian National Revolution in the late 1940s and also volunteered during the Korean Conflict. Bekking said that teamwork was as necessary for his father in conflict as it was for him as skipper of a round-the-world racing yacht.

“That part of his life was so important to him, especially his mates and friends,” said Bekking, whose father passed away last fall. “Sailing is based on teamwork. Without the team you can’t perform.”

“You have to stay in shape to a certain degree,” says Steitz, a co-founder of Warrior Sailing. “If you let your body go and you become a slave of your body, that’s a bad thing. The couch is not your friend.”

The Warrior Sailing Program has graduated more than 250 veterans since its first Basic Sailing Program in 2013. Two of them, Dan Brown and Brian Stewart, took part in today’s regatta. The electricity in their eyes and the wide smiles on their faces after a day of challenging Mother Nature and their fellow veterans illustrates how well sailing works as an active sports therapy.

Brown, 33, of Dallas, Texas, was a special ops medic with the 1st Marines Raider Battalion. Three years removed from active duty, he suffers brain trauma from repeated concussions. He had never sailed before joining Warrior Sailing, but now has a goal of completing a trans-oceanic passage.

“I love the water. I love Warrior Sailing,” said Brown. “Due to my concussions I lose my train of thought easily if I’m reading. But, with sailing there are so many tactile functions, like grinding winches and pulling lines, that I’m able to focus. It’s great brain exercise!”

Stewart, 36, of Boston, Mass., is a veteran of the Navy who’s been discharged since 2013. He found out about the Warrior program from Corey Kapes, a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist who joined Warrior Sailing after working with the VA. Stewart and Kapes were on a skiing trip when Kapes mentioned that he was transitioning to Warrior Sailing. Stewart had never been sailing before, but he immediately said, “I’ll try that.”

Stewart has found sailing to be exhilarating and likes that he’s expanding his horizons. “I love the water. I like extreme weather. I love it when the boat heels over. I like learning and moving forward. It’s very aspirational.”

Adapting to sailing is easy for the veterans because of the teamwork required for success. The old adage in sailing “you’re only as good as the guy behind you” holds true in combat. It’s that camaraderie that is especially appealing to the veterans.

“This group learns faster than any other group,” says Hugh Freund, a 30-year-old coach of the Warrior Sailing Program. Freund was diagnosed with bone cancer and lost his leg while still a student. He competed in the 2016 Paralympic Games and won a silver medal as crew with Rick Doerr in the Sonar class.

“The veterans are used to working in small teams,” says Freund. “They are used to problem solving and take accountability for their actions. We go out and practice for one day, come in, discuss what can be done better and the next day they go out and do it. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

Freund and Brown were part of the winning crew along with veteran Nick Trado and Ruben Donne, a project coordinator for the Volvo Ocean Race. There were no losers on the day, however, and with events such as the MetLife Veterans Regatta, group therapy in a sporting contest goes a long way towards healing the men and women who sacrifice their lives for their country. Add to Flipboard Magazine.