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Veterans and students unite for Team River Runner’s kayak football tournament

Senior Mason Austin-Brantly prepares to make a pass to a teammate. Because of the nature of the sport, kayaking allows veterans and students alike to compete together on a level playing field. Photo by Olivia Matthews.

By Elea Levin

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Paddling furiously, Brandon Huff catapulted the football towards his teammate on the other end of the pool, who caught it and shot to the end zone to score the winning touchdown for their team. Though this doesn’t sound like a typical charity event, this competition is part of Team River Runner’s annual kayak football tournament at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center March 4.

Team River Runner is designed to provide health, healing and a sense of camaraderie to returning veterans through adventure sports, said art teacher Nancy Mornini, who has been involved with the organization since her husband co-founded it in 2004. For the past decade, Mornini has worked with Whitmaniacs and the community to get students involved with the charity.

“Kayaking builds upper body strength, it helps with balance, and it gives veterans back sense of camaraderie and adventure,” Mornini said. “It’s a way to work out and to connect with other people.”

I enjoy kayaking, but it’s a whole other experience to contribute to an event like this where it’s mainly veterans and wounded warriors.

— senior Mason Austin-Brantly

The organization now has 45 locations throughout the country which offer weekly paddling sessions for veterans as well as a variety of annual fundraisers. The kayak football event is set up as a bracket competition with teams of six mainly made up of veterans, their families and volunteers from the each of the DMV chapters of the organization moving up until they reach the championship game. Other than the fact that the sport is played in kayaks on a pool instead of a field, it uses the standards rules of football. Though the event serves as a fundraiser, the main focus is giving veterans a chance to compete and bond with those from other chapters of the organization.

For Brandon Huff, a veteran who lost his leg in Iraq in 2005 who now works for Team River Runner, kayaking provides him with a chance to be athletic and competitive after returning from combat with limited ability to participate in sports.

“The kayak football tournament is important because it helps fill that gap that some people have for competitiveness,” Huff said. “It’s a great way for the chapters to get together and network and meet other vets.”

The nature of kayaking makes it an easier for wounded veterans and ordinary athletes to compete together in. Some students have participated in or volunteered for the event because it gives them the opportunity to try a new sport while also giving back to the community.

“I enjoy kayaking, but it’s a whole other experience to contribute to an event like this where it’s mainly veterans and wounded warriors,” senior Mason Austin-Brantly said. “Kayaking puts everyone on an equal playing field.”

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The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School
Veterans and students unite for Team River Runner’s kayak football tournament