By her late forties, Marlene Davis was assuming all joy in her life was gone. Davis served four years in the United States Military in the nineties, during which time she experienced severe head trauma and erosion in her vision. The doctors told her she would expect to be completely blind in less than twenty years.
I was blaming myself,” said Davis, who resides in Arkansas, “it was hard to feel brave. I kept thinking, ‘who would stand for the soldier girl”
In 2015, Davis discovered the Blinded Veterans Association, which she attributes to the drastic changes in her recent life. The BVA supports blind or vision-impaired veterans and provides them with opportunities to get outside. This led to Davis’s involvement as the coordinator for the Central Arkansas Team River Runners, a non-competitive kayaking team comprised of veterans who deal with blindness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other kinds of injuries.
Alongside getting herself out on the water, one of her favorite pastimes, the experience has allowed Davis to encourage other veterans to keep pushing themselves and enjoy their hobbies again.
When the vets are given these opportunities to participate in life again, we see their illness, suicide, depression rates drop,
Davis continued. On top of her involvement with the kayaking organization, she’s also a member of Freedom Sings USA, an organization that pairs professional songwriters with veterans and their families. The goal of the organization is to help veterans find an alternative way to tell their story. Their meetings are comprised of two parts: listening to the veterans tell their stories in pieces, and then turning those pieces into verses or chords the veterans can then practice.
I think, put together, these organizations can really help somebody like me get through at least some of the pain. Because the pain is consistent and hoping for it to go away doesn’t always work.
Davis also attributes a large part of her steps to recovery to her husband, who supports her endeavors and pushed her to attend the BVA conference in the first place.
I’m fortunate to have love and support from my family, but not every veteran gets that same devotion. My goal with the kayaking team is to get these veterans the encouragement they need to continue living.
While getting the veterans back in their boats has been nothing short of difficult this year, Davis is optimistic that they’ll be back at it in full by the fall. She’s also busy at work forming another kayaking team in northwestern Arkansas, hoping to provide state-wide engagement for all veterans.