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Organization helps paralyzed veterans fish at Kuttawa event

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Mason Galemore
/
WKMS
Participants in the Bank division receive instructions before fishing at Kuttawa Harbor Marina.

A national veterans organization is using fishing events to give back to people who put their life on their line for their country.

The Paralyzed Veterans of America puts on events around the country – including this past weekend in Kuttawa at the Bluegrass Bass Bash – giving immobilized veterans and civilians the opportunity to win cash prizes for their catches.

Vietnam Veteran and co-founder of Vets for Vets Jeff Thompson helped gather volunteers and boats. He says Lyon county has supported KIPVA for many years.

“Kuttawa Harbor Marina helped build a specially made dock for our veterans in powered wheelchairs,” Thompson said. “It was paid for out of pocket. It's pretty special.”

Art Hunt has been a regular fisherman at the tournament since 2007. He says fishing helped him get out in nature and the PVA’s mission inspired him.

“You like to see people succeed that don’t get the chance to succeed very much [succeed],” Hunt said. “[Some of these disabled veterans] don’t get a chance to get out in the outdoors as much as they would like. Some of them are quadriplegic and don’t have the full use of their hands and arms but they still try. It pushes me to do better and to not give up.”

Roy Gray is president of KIPVA and a U.S. Navy Veteran. Before joining the PVA in 2010, Gray served as a jet mechanic at the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake California. He and his unit tested explosives and aircraft in the Southern California Desert.

After losing his leg to a gunshot wound, Gray suffered from depression. An invitation to watch a game of sled hockey during his recovery turned things around and inspired his participation in sports that fuels his work with the PVA now.

“Being a part of the PVA gives me the opportunity to not only help myself but help others,” Gray said. “That’s what it's all about, they came to serve and now I have come to serve them. I want to let them know that life is not over.”

Dozens of volunteers and veterans – including U.S. Navy vet Christine Ledger – fished in the early morning light at Kuttawa Harbor Marina Saturday. Ledger is immobilized and relies on a powered wheelchair.

Ledger, an Indiana native, serves on KIPVA’s board. Ledger feels empowered by the volunteers working with the organization.

“It's amazing watching these fellows load the veterans,” Ledger said. “It kind of gives me goosebumps and makes me wish I could go back in [to the military]. I’d go back in a heartbeat.”

Jerry Richardson volunteers with the U.S. Military Vets Motorcycle Club out of Salem, Indiana. He rode to Kuttawa to help the disabled veterans and civilians into boats at the event.

“It's been eye-opening,” Richardson said. “The most rewarding part of it all is seeing the smile on the faces of all the veterans. The weather could be bad but if they have a smile on their face it makes it worthwhile.”

Boats were lent by people from western Kentucky and other areas. Volunteers also helped hand out food, bait hooks, and net fish. Volunteer Brian Gardipee, who moved to Kuttawa two years ago from Michigan, says he enjoys seeing the participants have fun.

“(PVA) offers so much to the veterans,” Gardipee said. “It's not just fishing but other sports as well. It's a very good way to give back.”

Money received through donations and entry fees were given to disaster relief efforts for the December 10 tornadoes.

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