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US ‘Wounded Warriors’ Learn Water Sports Without the Use of Their Limbs

While modern medicine on the battlefield has helped reduce the number of casualties, close to 20,000 U.S. service members are on the growing list of wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of those veterans are returning home as amputees. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports, there is growing hope those veterans can live a normal life back home with the help of projects dedicated to "wounded warriors".

The war in Iraq is something Dean Schwartz will live with for the rest of his life.

"We were fixing a hole from a roadside bomb that killed two soldiers the week before, and just kind of stayed out too long, and a guy came with an RPG [Rocket Propelled Grenade] and shot it in my truck, and my leg came off instantly," Dean told us.

But don't call Schwartz's amputation a disability. Not here in the waters off Breezy Point in New York. And not during this water sports festival hosted by the Wounded Warriors Project, the New York City Fire and Police departments, and the Adaptive Sports Foundation, where Kim Seevers works.

"Instead of looking at the amputation as a disability,” she says, “we just find their abilities, you know, work around whatever is not happening, try to find what we can use and help them see what is going to be successful and you can pretty much get anybody doing whatever they want to do."

What most veterans want to do is to live a normal life after the war. While it's harder with an injury and especially without a limb, the water sports festival is one of the first steps in opening the doors to possibilities for those still coping with a life-changing loss.

For Dean Schwartz, living without a leg is a war he continues to fight, even on summer vacation from college -- two years after he served in Iraq.

"My philosophy is if I let it keep me down, they win -- the insurgent that shot the RPG into me -- he wins, so I try to live my life normally and just stay happy," says Schwartz.

Ms. Seevers adds her perspective. "A lot of the folks who are here have been in Walter Reed (Army Medical Center), and this is their first opportunity to really get out and see, ‘Now I can still do that and I can still do this,’ and yeah, I definitely think it's a gateway to bigger and better things."

Those bigger and better things begin with the empowerment that comes from the small victories right here on the water… Like water skiing on one leg.

"Seeing someone come out here and be successful,” says Seevers, “and seeing how much joy it gives them to be able to do something, to find out if they can water ski again or wakeboard or whatever, that's the cool thing."

Surrounding the wounded veterans is a community of volunteers. Many have donated time over their summer vacations to improve the quality of life for those struggling to adapt to life on the homefront.

"People care tremendously about this, and if you watch an event like this for five minutes and it doesn't touch your heart, there's something wrong," Seevers says.