Country music blared through speakers as a small boat glided over the water to the middle of Standley Lake — the sun was strong, the water was a comfortable temperature, and Army veteran and double above-knee amputee Travis Strong of Golden was …
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Country music blared through speakers as a small boat glided over the water to the middle of Standley Lake — the sun was strong, the water was a comfortable temperature, and Army veteran and double above-knee amputee Travis Strong of Golden was gearing up to try wakesurfing for the first time.
On Aug. 22, the region’s first-ever amputee wakesurfing clinic was held at Standley Lake, thanks to a collaboration between three companies — Tommy’s, a water sports products provider, Freedom Innovations, a company focused on creating lower-limb prosthetic solutions, and Hanger Clinic, which provides orthotic and prosthetic solutions in care clinics.
There were about 20 participants of all ages, a great turnout for the first year, according to organizers of the event.
Before anyone even got on a boat, the participants spent time with experts like a local physical therapist and adaptive sports instructors — they stood on a wooden board on the ground and learned the proper positions to stand in to be the most successful. After learning what to do, the participants were given a tether to tie to their prosthetic limb(s) so they wouldn’t be lost if they fell off, and the boats started taking trips to the middle of the lake.
Strong was on the second boat to go out — he was excited but skeptical.
“I’ve never done any water sports before, just winter sports like mono skiing,” Strong said. “So we’ll see how this goes.”
While on his second deployment to Iraq in 2006, Strong’s Stryker was hit by an explosive in Baghdad. The explosive ripped through Strong’s vehicle and his legs. He fought for his life at a field hospital, and then spent months in hospitals and in extensive rehabilitation, and he also received custom-designed prosthetic legs.
Strong’s prosthetics didn’t look like most others around the event — he was wearing what Hanger employees called “stumpies.” They are shorter, do not have a bend like a knee does, and there are round rubber and metal discs at the end instead of prosthetic feet, all of which is part of a design to make it easier for Strong to walk.
Strong doesn’t let his injury affect the way he lives. He has competed in multiple Tough Mudder events and is going to participate in this year’s race as well. “Just because this happens,” Strong said, gesturing at his legs, “doesn’t mean your life is over.”
He said he’s the kind of person who doesn’t want to give in — which provides motivation for things like trying wakesurfing.
After cruising out on the lake for a few minutes, the boat stopped and Strong was instructed on how everything was going to work — from where to position the bottom of his prosthetics on the board to how to hold the rope attached to the boat.
A few quick splashes later and Strong, along with a volunteer, was in the water with the wakesurf board, but it was not time to shift the boat in gear yet. A crucial component of success is being able to put pressure on the board so it will sit against the bottom of Strong’s prosthetics. Once this maneuver was practiced a few times between Strong and the volunteer, it was time to give it a go.
Strong’s daughter Maddie, 11, accompanied him on the boat. Up until this point, she sat mostly quiet in the back corner of the boat, keeping an eye on her dad. When the boat started moving and Strong’s first attempt ended quickly, Maddie began to chew on her fingernails.
“I do this when I get nervous,” she said, pausing. “I’m nervous about everything when it comes to him.”
She was chatty with those still on the boat, but never said anything to her dad until he was back on board with her. After each attempt that got Strong closer and closer to wakesurfing, the boat would stop and the four men who made up the crew would talk about what went well and what needs to change.
The position of Strong’s prosthetics was moved to give him better leverage, another volunteer jumped into the water to help guide the board more and it was decided to give more gas to the boat to try and pop Strong up on top of the water faster.
After initial fixes, Strong was able to get up on the board several times, each time lasting for a few seconds. Cheers would break out and encouragement was yelled and hollered and the boat’s horn was honked.
When the session was over and Strong was back on the boat, Maddie told her dad “good job” and let him know he looked tired. ”Do you want some real water to drink, instead of lake water?” she asked her dad, handing him a water bottle.
Strong expressed that wakesurfing is hard, the hardest part being balance. ”I don’t have feet to feel, so I’d get up and I couldn’t tell what I needed to do,” he said.
Florida Georgia Line blasted through the speakers as the boat glided back to the dock, ending this session of wakesurfing, but the boat crew insisted that this was not the last time they would see Strong — he would get to try again.
Back on the dock, Strong spoke with other participants and Maddie excitedly went with a family friend to sign a waiver — she was going to get to go tubing with her dad later in the day.
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