Freeing disabled vets with kayaks

For America's war wounded, leaving the hospital is often just the start of a long recovery.

CBS News correspondent Chip Reid reports that some veterans are making remarkable progress, thanks to volunteers who get them to focus on what they can do, instead of what they can't do.

On the Potomac River just outside Washington, D.C., two kayakers were in search of the adrenalin rush that comes from surfing a white water wave.

You might not have guessed that 21-year-old Todd Love in the front seat was a triple amputee.

Love, a U.S. Marine lost both legs and one arm, just over a year ago, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. His father carried him to the river, and an instructor placed him in the kayak

He attached a prosthetic arm. When he entered the water, he was transformed.

"When I am in the kayak, it definitely makes me feel free because it's something about being on the water. It's good therapy," Todd said.

The organization providing this opportunity is called Team River Runner. The instructors are all volunteers.

Visit Team River Runner's website

Team River Runner started small about seven years ago with just a few kayakers on the Potomac River. But in recent years with so many injured veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, it's grown quickly. There are now chapters in more than two dozen states.

Many of the instructors are also injured veterans, including Jared Bolhuis.

"Team River Runner is what gave me my life back. It gave me a purpose again," Jared said.

Jared returned from Afghanistan in 2009 with his body intact, but with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury after a 500-pound bomb blew up next to his armored vehicle.

"I couldn't ride a bus. I couldn't ride the metro. I couldn't go to the movies, couldn't go to restaurants with friends. I couldn't go out. I was more or less confined to my own little world. I couldn't get out of it," Jared said.

The chance to help his fellow veterans changed everything.

"When I am with the other wounded veterans, when I am teaching, I am alive. There is nothing better in the world than to take someone who thinks they have had everything stripped from them, that they are never going to lead a functional life again and to teach them a whole new skill," Jared said.

Joe Mornini, a high school teacher, founded Team River Runner. He said nothing gives him more joy than watching people like Todd Love rediscover their confidence and self-esteem.

"I mean the thing is they are not disabled, they are enabled!" Joe said.

Todd Love said his success at kayaking has him looking for new challenges.

"I want to do skydiving soon. It shouldn't be a problem to do that," Todd said.

It shouldn't be a problem for a U.S. Marine with an unquenchable thirst for adventure.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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