RIC, Wounded Heroes Foundation aim to rejuvenate veterans' lives - FOX 32 News Chicago

RIC, Wounded Heroes Foundation aim to rejuvenate veterans' lives

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Summer camp is a place for adventure and personal growth, as well as a place to make lifelong friends. And one very special camp in Chicago does all of that while helping disabled soldiers find their way back to a more fulfilling life.

"I decided to get involved because basically for the last 15 years I've been sitting at home planning my suicide," said Kenji Kakugawa.

Kakugawa is a Navy veteran whose injuries keep him from walking. He had lost hope before making his way to Military Camp, where he can participate in a grueling three day round-robin of 15 sports designed for disabled soldiers. Many of them are amputees or paralyzed, and like Kakugawa, some look to the camp as a way back to the life they once had.

"I used to spend a lot of time in the water,” Kakugawa said. "I miss it, I miss being in the water.”

Whether floating or playing war games underwater, instructors say the silence and weightlessness provides welcome relief.

"...one of them said to me I can't believe how much less I feel any of my joint pain, any of my back pain, I'm free. I can move...I feel like I can move around like anybody else," said Dan Howard of DJ’s Scuba Locker.

Kakugawa is one of 50 veterans at the Chicago Military Camp sponsored by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the Wounded Heroes Foundation.

"For some of them it is life changing. They've been in a dark place and it's kind of a step in the right direction and for some it is the next step in a kind of competitive future," said Jason Stubbman, Sports Coordinator of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Jesse Graham is the father of 2 young girls. He is paralyzed from the neck down and determined to lead a normal life.

"The attitude is great. I've met a lot of people here and everybody so far is so helpful... I'm only 4 months off injury, so a lot of them are kind of giving me advice and helping me out quite a bit," Graham said.

There are men and women of all ages, and all branches of the service at the camp.

"If you talk to them you'll get their stories about how it really energizes them.....Once they do it some of them get very connected to it and they carry it on. And we've actually had a few folks go on to actual Paralympic competition,” said Tony Nasharr, Founder of the Wounded Heroes Foundation.

The goal for our bravest and best is opening new doors with limitless possibilities.

For more information on the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, visit their website.

For more information on the Wounded Heroes Foundation, visit their website.

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