Holmes Beach resident Chris LeGore is the assistant coordinator for the Bradenton/Sarasota chapter of Heroes on the Water and is one of the four founders of the area chapter.
Locally and nationally, HOW helps veterans overcome their physical or emotional problems by providing a peaceful kayak tour, along with fishing in quiet and natural bayous. The calm provides therapy that no hospital or clinic can match, LeGore said.
“Our next HOW event is Saturday, Feb. 23, at Bayshore Gardens Park in Bradenton starting at 8:30 a.m., and we’re trying to get the word out that this is open to all veterans, but particularly those who have physical or emotional problems as a result of their service experience,” LeGore said.
LeGore became interested in forming a HOW chapter while attending a meeting two years ago of the Anna Maria Island Kayak Anglers of West Florida. His father is a member of the group and LeGore joined because he shared his father’s interest in kayaking.
“The subject of HOW came up at one meeting because it involves kayaking. Four of us decided to form a local chapter to reach out to the veterans, especially those who really need emotional help,” LeGore said.
Nationally, HOW was founded in 2007 at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas and has 38 chapters across the country. More than 4,500 “wounded warriors,” have been helped by HOW, said LeGore.
The founding members of the Bradenton/Sarasota chapter are LeGore, Raul Casas, Morton Hellwig and Ken Treffinger.
Many veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have insulated themselves from the world and are going through an emotionally difficult time, LeGore said.
“That’s why we have no set agenda, no group counselors or therapists, just kayaks and camaraderie. And everything is free. It’s very informal. We’ve found that kayaking around the peaceful waters of our area is great therapy for many of these veterans, especially those who lost a limb during their service.”
HOW provides the kayaks, the guides, the food and experienced anglers. LeGore said fishing is an option for the veterans, but some prefer just to kayak.
The Feb. 23 event is the third for the local HOW chapter. All advertising and fundraising for HOW events has been word-of-mouth so far, LeGore said.
“We’re hoping to find a major sponsor to help us spread the word that we are here to help our wounded warriors. We have no set agenda and no forms or papers to fill out, no group counseling sessions or physical therapy. We just want to give our heroes a chance to recover and kayaking and fishing are two great ways to accomplish this. And the camaraderie formed goes a long way toward helping veterans,” he said.
LeGore recounted how one Vietnam veteran was reluctant to become involved because he feared groups and crowds. After attending two events, the man said he appreciated the fellowship and the fact that nobody was trying to change him or counsel him.
“He just enjoyed being on the water with others who could relate to being in the service and going to war,” said LeGore, who inherited his goodwill for veterans.
His father was in the U.S. Army in Germany, where he met and married LeGore’s mother. Additionally, LeGore’s grandfather was a German who refused to join the Nazi SS, Adolf Hitler’s paramilitary unit during World War II.
For his refusal, Nazi officials sent him to the Russian front as an army private. He became a prisoner of war of the Russians and spent five years working in a coal mine before his release. He eventually died of lung disease acquired from breathing coal dust.
“For me, helping veterans is special. It’s the least we can do to help our heroes. I thank all veterans for their service, and hope those interested in volunteering or joining the local HOW will come Feb. 23,” LeGore said.
The event starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at Bayshore Gardens Park, 6919 26th St. W., Bradenton, and concludes whenever people get tired and are ready to eat, LeGore said.
To reserve a spot for the Feb. 23 event and for more information, call Casas at 203-482-1790, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also find the local HOW organization at www.facebook.com/HeroesOnTheWaterSarasota.