Riding the rapids of change
Raytheon, No Barriers seek wounded warriors for a transformational expedition
CarrieAnn Grayson rediscovered her inner strength while riding the bull down the Colorado River.
An Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Grayson suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet she found some measure of peace during last year’s No Barriers Veteran Wilderness Expedition, a week of self-reflection and whitewater rafting with fellow veterans.
“I was deathly afraid of dark water,” said Grayson. “There was always this feeling of being trapped and not being able to escape. That metaphor had a closer meaning to my life, which I discovered during the expedition.”
The mental obstacles warriors often confront when returning home can seem as insurmountable as physical injuries. The nonprofit organization No Barriers hosts its annual Grand Canyon Veteran Wilderness Expedition to inspire veterans and transitioning service members with disabilities by helping them overcome the challenges of an adventure trek. This year's expedition, to be held Oct. 15-23, is the third sponsored by Raytheon.
It will also push the physical limits of participants, beginning with a seven-day whitewater river adventure and ending with a 7.5-mile hike of the Bright Angel Trail, which gains almost a mile in elevation.
Friends, family and colleagues can nominate wounded veterans for the 2016 expedition by visiting the Raytheon-No Barriers Warriors website. Nominations are due by July 8.
Veterans can also nominate themselves using the online application. The deadline for applications is July 15. Candidates must reside in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas or Southern California in order to participate.
”It’s not just about having an adventure," said Cindy Bean, chief development officer of No Barriers. "The warriors will challenge themselves physically and mentally every day. It changes their perspective about what they’re capable of doing."
Going in to last year's expedition, Grayson knew that she could use some help to overcome her fears. Much like the Army, it required a team effort.
”I cried every day on the boat," she said, drawing a comparison to her struggle with PTSD. "The rapids were the hardest part for me, not because they were dangerous, but because I could not control them.”
Determined to confront her fear, Grayson opted out of the “regular boat” option, where the participants could simply ride without tackling the rapids, and decided to paddle through the crushing waters; not just for herself, but for her team.
"Everyone is responsible for not drowning everyone else,” she said.
By the end, she even "rode the bull,” sitting at the front of the paddle boat and holding onto a rope through the full force of the rapids. Grayson described that as her “best day on the journey.”
After her experience, and with encouragement from the team, Grayson returned to Texas and sold her house. She traded in an old hatchback for a 4x4 truck and moved into her dream cabin in the Colorado mountains.
“I hesitated when I applied, thinking I couldn't do it,” Grayson said. “For those who are living with limitations, No Barriers lets you live out a life and do activities you thought were impossible. You realize there is a whole new life waiting for you out there.”