Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Military News

For disabled vets, skiing on Lake Seminole brings 'freedom'

SEMINOLE

They left their wheelchairs behind on the shore.

Towed on specially rigged skis by a speedboat Sunday on the water at Lake Seminole Park, disabled veterans not used to living with physical limitations didn't need to stay within the confines of those chairs.

After two trips out on the water, Shawn O'Neill, 31, described it like this:

"Freedom. I leave all my worries when I hit that water," he sighed. "It's bliss. So therapeutic."

O'Neill was among those invited to an exhibit hosted by the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa and the UCanSki2 nonprofit group from Florida that promotes the virtues of adaptive water skiing.

"Wahoooo!" yelled O'Neill, tossing himself back into the water after he was released from ropes attached to the boat. He bobbed, smiling, and slapped the hand of Morgan Schreiner, the volunteer who had skied alongside him.

The sport will be part of the 33rd Veterans Wheelchair Games, to be hosted in the Tampa Bay area in 2013. It's the largest competition of its kind in the world, and organizers at Haley expect to draw 1,000 competitors.

O'Neill plans to be there.

• • •

Each year, local hosts pick a different sport for athletes, said Jeanene LeSure, a recreational therapist at Haley and coordinator for the Tampa Bay games.

"Obviously, being surrounded by water, we wanted to offer a water sport," she said.

O'Neill has been out on the lake several times with Ann O'Brine-Satterfield, who founded UCanSki2. She noted his talent and encouraged him to try more complicated moves. On this day, he did several spins in a row.

She says her organization does more than water skiing.

"We're learning how to live again," she said.

O'Neill, who lives in St. Petersburg, is thinking about the U.S. Disabled Water Ski Team.

He calls himself a "gearhead" from Cleveland, Ohio, who dropped out of college to join the Air Force after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He was stationed in Germany and Qatar, where he said he flew with a crew daily to Baghdad to deliver medical supplies and troops.

Then five years ago, an injury sustained during a motocross competition stateside left him paraplegic.

He took turns Sunday with others veterans who haven't let their disabilities curtail active lives.

Stuart Contant, 48, is a retired Army chief warrant officer. He was injured in 2002 while flying an Apache helicopter that crashed in Afghanistan. Contant is a stay-at-home dad in Gainesville with two young daughters. He plays tennis competitively and plans to go next year to the U.S. Open Wheelchair Tennis competition.

• • •

Another athlete, Davis Celestine, 37, retired from the Navy as a petty officer third class. He was injured in 2001 while training for a deployment to Afghanistan. At first, he was unable to even talk.

He now can, and has regained some use of his arms. He serves as the president of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, bowls on Wednesdays and skis in Aspen every year. He finished six marathons using a hand cycle.

He encouraged other disabled veterans to try challenges.

"It really felt great out there, what with the wind in your hair," he said.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.

   
Comments
Shopping Tampa for Ukraine commandos: Bomb-sniffers, drones and laser-proof sniper scopes

Shopping Tampa for Ukraine commandos: Bomb-sniffers, drones and laser-proof sniper scopes

TAMPA — Like a homeowner combing Home Depot for his latest project, Roman Mashovets spent a good part of Tuesday wandering the floor at the Tampa Convention Center.But instead of nails and plywood, Mashovets — a former Ukraine special operations forc...
Published: 05/23/18
CentCom’s Votel: U.S. will stay in Syria to fight ISIS and keep an eye on Iran

CentCom’s Votel: U.S. will stay in Syria to fight ISIS and keep an eye on Iran

TAMPA — In March, President Donald Trump said he would be pulling U.S. troops out of Syria "very soon." But they’re still there, and will stay there, to defeat what’s left of the so-called Islamic State, says the man in charge of military efforts in ...
Published: 05/22/18
As special ops conference opens in Tampa, CentCom works to ease commandos’ burden

As special ops conference opens in Tampa, CentCom works to ease commandos’ burden

TAMPA — As thousands of people flock to Tampa for the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, the general in charge of U.S. forces across the Middle East along with Southwest and Central Asia said efforts are underway to reduce the stra...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18
Trump announces he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to become department’s permanent leader

Trump announces he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to become department’s permanent leader

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to nominate Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie to become the department’s permanent leader, noting that the decision may come as a surprise to Wilkie."I’ll ...
Published: 05/18/18
McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

TAMPA— All current and former military service members in central Florida can stop by their local McDonald’s and grab a free burger today.In celebration of Military Appreciation Month, McDonald’s is giving away a "Taste of Thanks." All veterans and c...
Published: 05/17/18
Howard Altman: MacDill chosen to sell new Army-like Air Force uniforms

Howard Altman: MacDill chosen to sell new Army-like Air Force uniforms

Home to headquarters including U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base is at the forefront of a lot of important military action.Now it is taking on a new role — as a prime Air Force clothier.The flying branch...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
MacDill reviewing transportation plans after crowds jam roads for AirFest 2018

MacDill reviewing transportation plans after crowds jam roads for AirFest 2018

TAMPA — Tampa Bay AirFest 2018 pulled in a whopping 150,000 people and more over three days last week, including practice on Friday.But that proved to be more people than the transportation plan could handle, delaying arrival by hours for some and pr...
Published: 05/17/18
Vital military training falls short, New Port Richey veteran says: How to re-enter civilian life

Vital military training falls short, New Port Richey veteran says: How to re-enter civilian life

When Green Beret Brian Anderson got ready to leave the Army in 2011, after eight years fighting in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, he followed the path taken by tens of thousands of service members each year.Anderson, now 36 and living in New Port ...
Published: 05/14/18
Clouds can’t dampen crowd’s enthusiasm at packed MacDill Airfest

Clouds can’t dampen crowd’s enthusiasm at packed MacDill Airfest

TAMPA — With his 4-year-old son Tyler on his shoulders, Ryan Wick watched the Navy’s Blue Angels aerial demonstration team scream over the MacDill Air Force Base flight line at about 400 miles an hour.An hour or so earlier, the two struck a similar p...
Published: 05/12/18
US jets intercept pair of Russian bombers off Alaskan coast

US jets intercept pair of Russian bombers off Alaskan coast

Two Russian long-range bombers were intercepted off the coast of Alaska by a pair of F-22 Raptor fighter jets on Friday, the military said.The Tu-95 bombers were flying in the Air Defense Identification Zone in the Bering Sea north of the Aleutian Is...
Published: 05/12/18