‘Warriors’ On Water Skis Overcome Injuries

‘Warriors’ On Water Skis Overcome Injuries

By Kendra Bobowick

Joel Zeisler dropped brochures and photographs on the coffee table. Pointing, he said, “There is one skier, he has no arms…” Indeed, the photo shows a man sending up a plume of water from his skis holding the tow rope in the crook of his arm; he is missing his wrists and hands.

Folding back a page, Mr Zeisler, the president of Sandy Hook-based Leaps of Faith Disabled Waterski Club, points to another shot from a recent summer clinic. Balanced on one good foot and one prosthetic limb, another skier smiles as his path slices the lake behind him.

Unlike the disabled and visually impaired Leaps of Faith participants who attend summer clinics at his home bordering Lake Zoar, the pictures on the table are of soldiers returning home with injuries — they are “wounded warriors,” Mr Zeisler explained.

“For recently returning injured soldiers, it’s like having pieces of the puzzle missing as they try to get their lives back in order,” he said. Expanding the reaches of his Leaps of Faith Clinic, and for the first time running a Wounded Warriors program — the 2010 Wounded Warrior Watersport Event — on his own, Mr Zeisler said, “We hope to help.”

In conjunction with the New England Handicapped Sports Association, Leaps of Faith will host the water ski, kayaking, and fishing event open to the soldiers and family members June 24–27 in Southbury.

Participants will receive an expenses-paid stay at Hampton Inn in Danbury and transportation between the hotel and venue on Lake Lillinonah in Southbury. Participants will open the weekend with a reception at the hotel on Thursday, June 24, which will include socializing, appetizers, and beverages at 7 pm. The schedule for Friday and Saturday includes water events, lunch, a barbeque, campfire socials. A cocktail hour in Redding is also planned for Friday night. Sunday, June 27, will be rain date for any activities that may need to be rescheduled, as well as the regular departure day.

A “special surprise” also awaits troops at the 2010 Wounded Warrior Watersports Event, promised Mr Zeisler.

The program welcomes family members, offers festivities, and a boost in confidence. “You don’t have to be intimidated,” Mr Zeisler said. “They’ll meet other volunteers and veterans — they’re not all perfect, but they have adapted and accept their injuries as best they can.”

Trained volunteers from his group and the New England Handicapped Sports Association will assist with skiing and kayaking. Fishing, volleyball, and horseshoes are also on the weekend’s agenda.

Tapping a finger to his head, he said, “After that, it’s all up here.” He recommends that each guest set a goal. Once accomplished, “You’ll feel like you can do anything,” Mr Zeisler said. “That’s the idea; it’s more than pulling someone behind a boat.”

Leaning away from the coffee table and taking another look at one of the brochure pictures, he remarked on one silhouette: “Two men are standing together looking at the lake and the sunset.” The picture shows a man standing on a prosthetic, and another using crutches to support himself on one leg.

“A lot of people don’t realize what we’re trying to accomplish. I could say that it’s trying to get a soldier involved I a sport, but…,” he trailed off.

Comparing reactions to those he sees during his Leaps of Faith clinics, he said, “There are lots of smiles. It’s the same kind of smile.” People forget their disabilities for longer and longer periods of time, he added.

Kristie Uniacke and Amanda Findorak are event coordinators. Contact them at 203-426-0666 or Joel@LeapsOfFaithWaterskiers.com.

Learn more about the regular Leaps of Faith clinics and view the 2010 summer schedule at www.LeapsOfFaithWaterskiers.com. Events are open to all ages and all disabilities.