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Team River Runner helps veterans enjoy kayaking and rafting on the Payette River

Posted at 2:13 PM, Jul 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-20 18:40:52-04

Team River Runner was created in 2004, now there are more than 60 chapters across the country including right here in Idaho, this non-profit helps veterans get into paddle sports.

Idaho News 6 joined Team River Runner who invited regional chapters for a three-day rafting and kayaking experience on different stretches of the Payette River.

"I love it, I’m an Aquarius, I’m a water sign and I just took to it like a fish in water man," said Billy Artie McNeal an Army veteran who came from California. "I love the river, I love everything about the river."

Team River Runner not only provides all the equipment at no cost, they also host clinics to teach veterans how to paddle on flatwater, they do roll sessions in calm water, they focus on how to read rapids and they practice a number of different safety techniques so when paddlers get to wild rivers like the Payette, they have a good time and stay safe.

"It's very personally challenging, it is intimidating and all of a sudden, you are on top of a rapid, you got to go there is no turning back," said Anthony R. Mendoza III, an Army veteran who lives in Middleton. "You can’t push the stop button there is no reset."

Many of these veterans have disabilities, but this non-profit has opened the doors for these vets to get outdoors, do something active and do it together as a team.

"I used to stay home and do nothing because I have PTSD and all these other disabilities," said McNeal. "Team River Runner got me out, I did Operation Surf, I did stand up paddle boarding in Washington last week and anything with water you can count me in."

I got paired up with Steven, an Army veteran who is paralyzed from the waist down, but he was able to successfully run the Cabarton stretch of the Payette River including Howard's Plunge, a sizable rapid to finish off the day creating a sense of euphoria for the entire group.

"After I get done with the river I get to have a beer, I never did that before it’s pretty cool man," said McNeal. "I get to meet different people, different nationalities, it is just awesome man I love it, I wouldn’t give it away for nothing in the world."

Team River Runner is always looking for help in the form of donations or volunteers, Bob Taylor runs the Boise Chapter which he started in 2015.

"I fell into this, I’m so happy to do it," said Taylor. "I’m not a veteran myself, but when I found this opportunity I was so happy to be able to serve those who have served."

If you are a veteran here in Idaho, click here for more information on how to get set up with Team River Runner.