Serene & Surreal: How Veterans Are Using Paddling To Heal

In this short film, Team River Runner participants describe the benefits of wilderness kayaking

“Without having the wilderness so accessible, there would be a lot of vets — I know for a fact — that wouldn't be here but still are," says Eric Guzman in Serene & Surreal: Healing Waters of the Congaree Wilderness, a new film from the America's Wilderness series.

Guzman, who served as a machine gunner in the Marine Corps and as an Army combat engineer, co-narrates this moving film about the redemptive powers of paddling with a PTSD therapy group in Congaree National Park. Over the last two years, Guzman says he has benefited greatly from paddling with the nonprofit group Team River Runner and spending time in the wilderness.

"Team River Runner was presented as an option for health and healing through paddle sports," Guzman explains. "I'd never been in a kayak at all. So I just decided: Why not? Let's see what it's all about. My first trip was down to the Lower Green in North Carolina. I'd never even touched a kayak at that point. And it was a long trip…I was flipped upside down most of the way. But it was fun. I was hooked ever since."

Guzman's experience with Team River Runner, which won the C&K’s 2014 Paddle with a Purpose award, has provided him the opportunity to bond with other veterans suffering from PTSD as well as a chance for reflection. "It allows me to burn off excess energy that I might have from recounting bad memories, bad situations. It just allows me just to get away from it all," he says.

A celebration of the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary, Serene & Surreal captures the transformative potential protected wilderness areas provide: peace, space and in Guzman's words, the chance to "enjoy what this world has to offer us."

-Learn more about Team River Runner here: http://www.teamriverrunner.org/

-See more short films from the AMERICA’S WILDERNESS SERIES, a film project that exposes viewers to our country’s wilderness areas through the eyes of individuals with diverse connections to these special wild lands. The series was produced through a partnership between the National Park Service and American University's Center for Environmental Filmmaking.