Cleveland, Ohio,
10:49 PM

(Video) A river to recovery

These are soldiers who safeguarded our freedom, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. We can't thank them enough for their service and their sacrifice.
MPC Chairman, President and CEO Gary Heminger

“It was a bad day,” comments Special Forces veteran Steve Baskis, referring to the day his vehicle ran over a roadside bomb in Iraq, instantly killing the soldier beside him. The shrapnel entering his own temple destroyed both his vision and his sinuses.

His story, and those of the other veterans present, caused most of those attending the “Paddling for Patriots” event held in Cleveland on July 19 to reconsider what constitutes a bad day. But that soldier’s subsequent story, and how he came to be paddling a kayak on July 19 on the Cuyahoga River, is one of hope and inspiration.

More than 30 people from Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s (MPC’s) Findlay, Ohio, office, nearly 40 from MPC’s refinery in Canton, Ohio, and MPC Chairman, President and CEO Gary Heminger, traveled to Merwyn’s Wharf Rivergate Park in Cleveland to watch a demonstration of Team River Runner (TRR), an organization that provides paddling and adaptive kayaking experiences for disabled veterans.

Sponsored by MPC’s Federal Government Affairs group and organized by Government Affairs Representative Guy Beeman, the“Paddling for Patriots” event also attracted plenty of local and national media, already in town for the Republican National Convention. The crowd included U.S. Senator Rob Portman, an avid kayaker himself and supporter of the organization, along with members of the American Petroleum Institute and other state senators and representatives.

“MPC is proud to sponsor this event,” said Heminger in his remarks at the event, noting that the red, white and blue of the Marathon logo runs deep. “These are soldiers who safeguarded our freedom.”

The veterans each took to the water in specially adapted equipment to suit their injuries, demonstrating rolling a kayak, playing a game of “kayak football” – described as a combination of football and hockey – and racing down the open water. Kayaks and paddles were specially adapted to accommodate a lack of limbs, blindness, and other disabilities. The day included the debut of special electronic equipment that enabled a vet who was both blind and deaf to paddle a kayak on the open water.

Several of the veterans also took the microphone during the event, describing how learning to kayak in the pool at Walter Reed Hospital had been crucial to their healing and recovery and had given them the confidence to take on other new challenges.

“Vets need to be around other vets to heal,” says Team River Runner’s executive director and co-founder Joe Mornini. “It is truly amazing what they are able to do.”

MPC presented Team River Runner with a check for $33,000 to help them continue with their work. Through the generosity of donors, TRR provided all boats, outfitting, safety gear, lodging, food and more. In 2015, the organization involved 2,100 vets in more than 1,850 activities and programs on the water. Now in its 12th year, the 54 chapters of the organization across 31 states involve more than 700 volunteers.

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