Rowing Puts Veterans' Lives Back On Track

Rowing Puts Veterans' Lives Back On Track

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OKLAHOMA CITY -  Mike Harryman's life was out of control when he returned from the battlefield.

"Well I was institutionalized by military and combat," Harryman said. "That's pretty much how I lived. My operator switch was stuck on."

The Veterans Affairs Case Manager assigned to help him transition from the military agrees.

"Physical injuries, mental health issues, pain management, Michele Diesselhorst-Reese said. "A lot of different things."

It's the same story for many veterans. Some react like Harryman. Others, like Andi Chorley, lock themselves inside.

"I wasn't getting out of my house at all," Chorley said. "I was pretty much a hermit."

Chorley says it took a V.A. Patient Advocate three months to convince her to go to group therapy.  There she heard about a team of rowers.

"I was like, I'm not a rower," she said. "I don't know that that is!"
The team of rowers was co-founded by Harryman who saw its potential.

"This team brings us out of isolation," Harryman said. "On top of that it helps us talk with civilians to kind of re-integrate ourselves back in with them."

They call themselves the Oklahoma City V.A. Warriors Rowing Team.  They meet twice a week to work out and row. The goal is simple.

"There's camaraderie with this as a member of a team," Diesselhorst-Reese said. "So it's like bring back in a unit again."

"I have friends again, it's kind of weird," Chorley said. "I've actually made a couple of girl friends which is completely weird."

That camaraderie is based on trust.  These service members were taught to fight head on, so learning to row backwards is difficult and scary.  But with friendship, determination, and the occasional light-hearted joke, they're now fighting for a normal life.

As Chorley sings into a speaker as rowers prepare to board, a service member at the back of the boat yells, "Andi sing solo.  So low that I can't hear you!"

The Boathouse Foundation and Warriors For Freedom provide the facilities, the boats, even the uniforms free of charge. 

But the effect this rowing team has on each individual is priceless.

"It's helped me and my family because now my kids are actually leaving the house with me, and before my kids were locked in the house with me," Chorley said. "So it affects my whole family.")

"I work my schedule around it for everything to make sure that I'm here for practice, for every single practice," Harryman said.

"Has it saved his life?" asked Diesselhorst-Reese. "In his words, he says that it has. So I would agree with him when he says that."

If you'd like more information on the Warriors Rowing Team, please click here.

If you'd like more information on the Warriors For Freedom, please click here.

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