The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is quite possibly one of the most daunting stretches of river in the world, which typically requires years of whitewater and river running experience to complete successfully.
In August of 2013, U.S. Navy veteran Lonnie Bedwell completed a 16-day trip of the Colorado’s Grand Canyon, and only swam twice in the process.
Bedwell, due to a hunting accident 16 years ago, is blind.
Bedwell took on the 226-mile stretch with Team River Runner, a non-profit kayaking organization whose mission is to help American veterans cope with serious injuries. He became the first blind kayaker to complete the entirety of the Grand Canyon in a solo kayak.
It was certainly a change from the whitewater of the Appalachian foothills and the pond in which the Indiana native practiced on before heading to The Big Ditch, carrying the experience and confidence from his Team River Runner training as he headed off for an adventure that can seem insurmountable to even experienced river runners – which Bedwell was not.
His paddling companions included three additional kayakers who coached Bedwell through some 200 Class IV and Class V rapids with voice commands that he somehow heard over the roaring of the rapids.
One paddler generally preceded Lonnie through a set of rapids, occasionally backwards to facilitate communications. The other two paddlers followed closely to be readily available in case of a capsize in the three- to 30-foot waves, depending on the rapid.
Nonetheless, Bedwell only took two swims during the voyage, both of which came as a result of his skirt imploding.
Bedwell, who is now involved in a number of other outdoor activities as well as kayaking, thanks Team River Runner for its efforts on his behalf and actively supports the organization in its endeavors to help his fellow veterans recover from their injuries.
“Doing this trip was and still is surreal,” said Bedwell. “To this day, I’m still not sure that words can describe it. But, the one thing that I did say after the trip was all over is ‘It’s absolutely irrelevant and meaningless if it can’t be passed on.’”
“Since we finished this I have talked to eight other blind or visually impaired veterans that want to try to kayak,” said Bedwell. “Team River Runner is planning on taking them to various events. This alone seems to make the trip all worth it.”
Team River Runner, established in August 2004 in the Washington, DC area, is run by a group of kayakers and is primarily a volunteer-based organization, supported by grants, and corporate and individual donations. The company was initially established to help active duty military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. TRR is actively growing in their mission to assist those injured while serving their country. Consequently, TRR now serves veterans of all eras at over 40 chapters throughout the United States. For more information, visit teamriverrunner.org.