RUSKIN — The intermittent rain cleared up just in time for kayak fishermen (and women) to enjoy their boating time and then for everyone in the group to have lunch together on the beach Aug. 1 at E.G. Simmons Park in Ruskin.
It was a big day for the kids in the summer Fishing Camp.
The camp, part of Gardenville Recreation Center’s summer program, has been held at the park all week and on this day, veterans of foreign wars, including both Gulf wars and some wounded veterans from Vietnam, joined in on the fun.
Some were aided from wheelchairs into the kayaks by staff from the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and conservation program, led by recreation program coordinator, Dave Rameriz, who got the plan together.
“This is a really big deal to these kids,” Rameriz said, never stopping his work during the interview. “Meeting the people who served our country in such a big way- and the Buc’s cheerleaders (some of whom were on hand to help) on the same day is just amazing.”
Hutch Hutchens, coordinator of the Florida Suncoast Chapter of Heroes on the Water was able to arrange for 19 veterans to attend. “We just held a similar event in Tampa,” he said. The fairly new chapter of the national organization has just started gearing up.
“It helps the vets to take part in activities like this,” Hutchens said. “And the kids need to see what sacrifices some have made for our country.”
Most had just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan although a few were in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Heroes on the Water’s main purpose is to help injured military personnel relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate with society through fishing and the outdoors. There is a 10-week program to teach the vets how to kayak and fish on local waters.
Neil Taylor, owner of Strike Three Fishing in Pinellas County, provided the kayaks and helped with the techniques. He can be found at www.strikethreefishing .com.
Meanwhile, the food was provided by Craig Engel, president of Get Smoked, who also owns South Shore Apparel in Gibsonton.
Meat was donated by Kevin Crofton of Uncle John’s Sausage.
“Mostly we work with TBI (traumatic brain injuries) or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder patients) when we go into hospitals,” Hutchens said. That’s how he gets his ‘kayakers.” He says he spends a lot of volunteer time talking to veterans like himself in hospitals and clinics and pushing the idea of getting back to things they have enjoyed in the past or new things they have never had time to learn.
To find out how you can help this worthy organization, log onto its website, www.heroesonthewater.org, or call 214-295-4541.