Thursday, July 17, 2008

Water Sports for Wounded Warriors

By Patricia Adams
The Forum South

For the fourth successive year, residents of Breezy Point opened their hearts and their homes to host the Adaptive Water Sports Festival for four days last week. The residents took part in a program begun by Rockaway’s GrayBeards organization formed after 9/11, in which servicemen and women who have been severely injured during the war on terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world.

The Rockaway community was one of the hardest hit on Sept. 11, 2001 and ravaged again by the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 just two months later. Yet, the community proved resilient and responded with a surge of empathy, and charitable endeavors. Most notably, the GrayBeards were formed, a nonprofit dedicated to helping those in need. It is through the GrayBeards, Wounded Warrior Project and Disabled Sports USA, that this event is again possible.

This year, the GrayBeards again coordinated all housing, travel and entertainment for 42 U.S. soldiers & Marines plus eight English (BLESMA) soldiers visiting from Great Britain. As part of the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project, a partnership between Wounded Warrior Project and Disabled Sports USA, soldiers had the opportunity to learn adaptive water skiing, scuba diving and other water sports.

Specially trained volunteers from the Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) were on hand to teach these sporting skills to those with amputations and other severe injuries. In addition to the generosity of all the participating Rockaway residents, one Howard Beach businessman also played a big part in making the weekend a success.

Angelo Gurino, owner of Ragtime Gourmet Deli, heard about the event and asked friend and GrayBeard member Joseph Mure what he could do to help. “Do what you do best,” was Mure’s answer, “feed the people.” And so on Saturday afternoon, Gurino and some staffers arrived at the Breezy Point Yacht Club with one of his catering trucks and enough heroes, pasta, assorted hot dishes and salads to feed hundreds of hungry mouths. “For all the sacrifices these men and women have made for us, this is a small way to contribute and show them some thanks,” Gurino said.

“I look at them, with such severe disabilities and see them really having a good time -- it’s just a great thing to be part of how inspirational they are.” On a final note the father of three said, “I wish everyone could be here to see the courage and strength of these people—you look at what’s happened in their lives and you realize there’s not too much you can complain about.”

Retired Fire Captain, father of seven and GrayBeard member Flip Mullen is considered a driving force behind the project and was on hand for Saturday’s festivities at the Yacht Club. Mullen’s commitment and enthusiasm was evident in his animated and touching description of all the events involved in the program. “The people here really look forward to this. I get phone calls from residents who are screaming at me saying, why didn’t I get a soldier this year.”

It’s people like Mullen and the GrayBeards who really embody what it is to show the spirit of giving. If you would like to learn more about the many programs offered to benefit the Wounded Warriors and find out how you can help out, please visit their website at, you may also visit the website of the Graybeards to learn more about them at, or write to GrayBeards, Ltd 436 Beach 129th Street Rockaway, New York 11694.