BELVIDERE (WIFR) – In Belvidere this weekend as a group of disabled veterans get into the water with some help from volunteers. For one of them it was more than just a day at the pool.
"I hit the ground hard enough to compress fracture two of the vertebrae in my back,” says former Army Ranger Eric Kennedy.
He says every day has been a struggle since hurting his back in a parachuting accident nearly two decades ago. Saturday at the Belvidere YMCA was a chance for him to feel something other than pain.
“I can move myself and not worry about 'is this gonna hurt...is this gonna bother me'," said Kennedy. For him, Saturday was peaceful.
”It Was freedom for me,” said Kennedy.
Eric was one of nearly twenty disabled vets learning how to scuba dive at the YMCA's pool. It's an activity some of the men and women who attended aren't able to do alone.
This is where dive master Todd Ehrhardt comes in. He organized the swim to honor our service members.
"I couldn't imagine what they've given up,” said Ehrhardt. “Pieces of themselves...you know emotionally and physically.”
"It's all about giving back,” said Lisa Depasquale. She is a 27-year Navy veteran, and volunteered at the event. “I'm able bodied enough to where I can do that, so I'm going to help my fellow."
As for Eric, it's the physical pain that's made life harder for him. Years after his injury, he says a surgery left him with a blood clot that made his situation much worse.
"I wound up having a spinal stroke,” said Kennedy. “I Couldn't even move my legs...my toes...I mean I couldn't even feel anything."
And although the experience was positive for Eric, he realizes that challenges lie ahead.
"It's gonna be a long hard road to get back, and I may never get back to what I've lost, but just as in the military, you just keep fighting."
It's a fighting spirit he hopes every vet can hold onto.
Ehrhardt says he plans on continuing to host events like this for vets. The lessons were free for the vets who signed up.