By Lizzie Simons, Community Program Coordinator.
What comes to mind when we think of a VA Hospital?
It’s okay if it’s not positive. As a culture our exposure to military and veterans hospitals mostly comes from the media- Lieutenant Dan pulling Forrest down from his bed, Bradley Cooper’s depiction of Chris Kyle telling the psychiatrist what haunts him, and the screaming of Ron, “I just want to be treated like a human being,” while bound in his hospital bed in Born on the 4th of July. During WWII, twelve percent of the population served. Today that number has considerably shrunk to half a percent. With numbers so small it is likely that the average civilian hasn’t seen the inside of a VA hospital, and that their insights are shaped entirely by the media’s depiction. Up until December 11th, I know mine was.
Several attempts have been made by Row New York to bring veterans to rowing. Email blasts and Facebook posts advertising Learn-To-Row sessions at the Manhattan and Queens boathouses have yielded small turnouts of enthusiastic veterans. So instead of bringing vets to rowing, we decided to bring rowing to the vets.
In cooperation with the Manhattan VA, four ergometers were wheeled into the Atrium at Harbor Health last Monday morning. The staff was friendly and excited to meet us, many jumping on the erg to learn. Two vets were there before the ergs arrived, and I believe one of them was still on the erg when we finished up. Several recruits took five to ten minutes before their appointments to come in and give it a try.
I can’t say we got smiles from every vet we convinced to sit on the rowing machine, but smiles aren’t always what rowing is about. There was, however, a definite air of positivity and accomplishment from each of the thirty participants, as well as excitement about the upcoming program. Whether or not the rest of these Veterans’ experiences at the VA were as positive as our little workshop is a mystery to us. Even if it wasn’t, I hope and believe that Row New York made their day a little brighter, and will continue to do so in the future.