Healing through hobbies

 

A single leg amputee surfs at the swimming pool at Brooke Army Medical Center.

CPT Chad Fleming surfs at the pool at Brooke Army Medical Center. Celebrate National Hobby Month by trying a new hobby or activity! Photo courtesy of army.mil.

 

The first days, weeks and months after a serious wound, illness or injury can be difficult and discouraging. For some recovering Service members, it can be hard to imagine they will ever be able to participate again in the activities they enjoyed before they were injured or became ill.

But, there is reason to be optimistic! Many Service members return to the hobbies they enjoyed before their wound, illness or injury, and many Service members try new things they never even attempted before, proving that wounded warriors need not be defined by what they have lost. Instead, they can excel and define what it means to be a wounded warrior for the rest of us.

To celebrate January as National Hobby Month, consider exploring some new activities and interests that might lift your spirits and help you on your road to recovery.

 

A woudned warrior SCUBA dives alongside a reef shark.

Many wounded warriors explore new hobbies and activities as part of their recovery, such as the warriors participating in SUDS, who receive adapted SCUBA training and certification. Photo courtesy of SUDS.

That’s exactly what some wounded warriors are doing through SUDS—Soldiers Undertaking Disabled SCUBA—a non-profit in the Washington, DC area that teaches SCUBA training and certification classes at the pool at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. The goal of SUDS, as demonstrated in the following video, is to assist in the physical and mental recovery and recuperation of wounded warriors by training them in a challenging and rewarding activity.

Participation in water-based activities such as SCUBA, surfing and swimming can also help warriors with physical injuries regain coordination and mobility.

The SUDS program is open to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Service members who are already participating in physical therapy and occupational therapy care. Wounded warriors taking part in SUDS receive adaptive SCUBA training from certified instructors, many of whom are former or active duty military themselves. Through donations, SUDS also sponsors SCUBA excursions for qualified and certified Service members. Excursions in the past year have included the Outer Banks in North Carolina, as well as to the island countries of Curacao and the Turks and Caicos.

SUDS founder John Thompson, an Army veteran himself, believes in the power of hobbies and other physical activity to positively impact the recovery of wounded warriors.

“It’s the most rewarding project I have ever been involved in,” Thompson says on the organization’s web site. “Many things are just easier to do in the water with these types of injuries. It’s part rehabilitation, part confidence-building, part adventure for these wounded warriors. I am really inspired by the injured veterans at Walter Reed.”

British Soldiers are also having positive experiences underwater. Brad Hughes and Peter Wesley both served as part of a parachute regiment in Afghanistan and were injured when their armored vehicle drove over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Medically discharged from the British Army, they found a new passion in SCUBA diving, and became the first wounded warriors to receive the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) Open Water Badge. To obtain their certifications, Brad and Peter trained with the Army Sub-Aqua Diving Association, which also trains military divers and which has, for several years, used SCUBA diving as a form of rehabilitation for wounded warriors.

In an interview with a British newspaper Brad, who didn’t even like the ocean before he took up SCUBA, spoke about what diving has meant to him and his recovery from six fractures and a dislocated right foot.

“The frustration, pain and worry which I was feeling after being injured took me to a low point in my life because when you have been used to being fit and active and part of a very close knit team and suddenly that is taken away and you feel your Army career is probably finished, it feels devastating,” Brad said in the interview. “But the diving gave me some confidence and everything I was worried about on the surface, disappeared when I got to the bottom. It just allowed me to leave behind those worries I had about my injury and what the future held.”

Whatever hobbies or activities appeal to you—either under the sea or on dry land—we encourage you to take an opportunity this month to stretch your limits and try something new.