The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs announced that for the fourth consecutive year, USRowing has been awarded an Adaptive Sports Grant of $250,000 to support community-based Freedom Rows programs throughout the United States. Freedom Rows is a national program that has been changing lives for disabled veterans and members of the armed forces since its inception in 2014.
Total grant awards to USRowing from the VA now exceed $1,000,000. Freedom Rows has grown from six to over 30 programs serving an average of 1,000 veterans each year. The Grants for Adaptive Sports Programs for Disabled Veterans and Members of the Armed Forces (ASG Program) provides grant funding to organizations to increase and expand the quantity and quality of adaptive sport activities disabled Veterans and members of the Armed Forces have to participate in physical activity within their home communities, as well as more advanced Paralympic and adaptive sport programs at the regional and national levels.
This year, 96 organizations in 33 states received a 2017-18 grant, up from 67 organizations in the 2016 fiscal year. The VA estimates that 10,000 veterans and service members will benefit from the nearly $8 million in funding.
"We are proud to be partnering with so many excellent community and service organizations to provide adaptive sports to Veterans across the country," said Dr. Leif Nelson, director of VA's Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events, who administers the VA's adaptive sports grants. "Together, through VA's Adaptive Sports Grant program, we are able to increase access to adaptive sports for Veterans with disabilities by bringing the opportunities closer to home."
In addition to USRowing, several organizations that offer adaptive rowing programs were awarded grants including Greater Columbus Rowing Association, Row New York, Holyoke Rows, Inc., Community Rowing, Inc., Saratoga Rowing Association, Far West Wheelchair Athletic Association, Riekes Center for Human Enhancement, Chicago Park District, Bridge II Sports and the San Antonio Sports Foundation.
"We are honored that USRowing received the second-largest grant awarded to a single-sport National Governing Body and attribute the incredible work of the Freedom Rows program leaders and volunteers at USRowing member clubs and VA medical facilities throughout the U.S. for our continued success," said Deb Arenberg, USRowing Adaptive Programs Development Specialist.
"Rowing is uniquely suited to veterans, as it provides a support system that involves team effort, mutual trust, dedication towards a common goal and an ethos that veterans are familiar with from their service training. For some rowers, returning to their pre-injury level of fitness, getting back on the water, or even just leaving their house for the first time since they were injured are major milestones," said Arenberg.
Funds will be used to continue existing Freedom Rows programming, send qualified athletes to competition, purchase needed adaptive rowing equipment and supplement coaching fees.
Participants in Freedom Rows programs have reached the elite level, with more athletes expected to compete in events like The Head of The Charles Regatta and San Diego Crew Classic this coming year. Two Freedom Rows athletes - Helman Roman from Miami Beach Rowing Club in Florida and Russell Gernaat from Bair Island Aquatic Center in California - competed on the U.S. National Team. Roman raced in the mixed double sculls at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, while Gernaat raced earlier this month in the mixed double sculls at the 2017 World Rowing Championships in Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.
"It is gratifying to see the impact rowing has on the lives of veterans," said Arenberg, who said that she's seen transformative results in those diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. "We can report that some veterans have been able to decrease or stop using medication for PTSD, while others have successfully lost weight and improved their mental and physical well-being.
"Rowing benefits veterans the same way it benefits all of USRowing's members physically, spiritually and mentally and can offset the ravages of depression and addiction, which are unfortunately major themes with too many veterans."