July 9, 2018, Bartlesville, OK—Normally, golfers like to avoid the water, but in this case, they ran toward it to help military veterans who have been wounded in combat, by participating in a golf tournament at Adams Golf Course and raising $26,000 for Team River Runner.
Team River Runner (TRR) is a non-profit group founded by Joe Mornini, a man with a solitary vision of taking wounded warriors and giving them back their independence and self-worth by teaching them how to kayak and participate in other paddle sports. If a warrior has lost limbs, Joe figures out a way to retrofit a kayak so they can still get in the water and race. For example, Joe has taken blind veterans and they have kayaked down the waters of the Grand Canyon. This career Special Education teacher sees no limits in what people with disabilities can do, and this golf tournament is helping him realize his goals.
“We’ve never had a golf tournament before,” Mornini said. “We are trying our most ambitious effort ever, where we want to get 5 blind veterans to boat the Grand Canyon. I wanted to get some blind guys out there to golf. We had the best time. We had Steve Baskis, a veteran who was in the Army and was a personal security specialist and was injured by an IED (a roadside bomb) and lost both his sight and had multiple shrapnel injuries to his arms, neck and legs. Also Aaron Hale, who was an Army EOD Specialist who was wounded and blinded by a roadside bomb, and has done multiple marathons and is now training to be a kayaker.”
“They are athletes and veterans so they follow directions very well,” Mornini continued. “They were lined up with the golf club faced to the ball and would swing away. They just rocketed the ball down the fairway. So impressive! So fun for them to hear that ‘click’ when the ball went into the cup! It was such a well-run tournament and we had so much fun!”
The money raised will be used to buy 5 trailers for volunteers to carry kayaks and adaptive equipment to rivers so veterans in all parts of the country can get on the water much quicker.
“We were in awe of Team River Runner and wanted to be part of this event,” said Deni Lorson, of Phillips 66, a major sponsor of the golf tournament. “We had 84 participants, 22 teams, 25 volunteers and everyone had a blast! Others have heard about the tournament and already want to be involved with it next year. Steve and Aaron were awesome ambassadors for TRR. Imagine playing golf completely blind and playing it well! It left us speechless.”
ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66 became aware of Team River Runner from Brian “Bru” Brurud, the Founder of Check-6. “Bru” spent 16 years as a naval aviator and survived 436 carrier landings, 99 combat missions and 17 missile attacks. He understands what veterans face when they get home. Along with his fellow veterans at Check-6, they decided to sponsor a for some TRR wounded vets and saw first-hand how life-changing it can be.
“Patriotism is not lost on Bartlesville, Oklahoma as it is defined by those that live there and grow that heritage!!” said Brurud. “Those who golfed with true warriors will tell you how they felt that patriotism when they met the heroism defined by Team River Runner, it’s warriors, it’s volunteers, it’s contributors and it’s mission!”
“Everyone involved could sense a purpose greater than self this day. We were privileged to meet, celebrate, and contribute to something that brings back purpose, quality of life and even the will to live,” Brurud continued.
“Even better was to be with lifelong friends Lorront and Deni when they shared a driven passion to help some of our own, the wounded warrior. I immediately thought of Joe and Team River Runner!! Since hospitality, ranching, the Chicken Fried Steak, and philanthropy were all invented in Oklahoma, it seemed like TRR needed to meet my patriot buddies! I’m excited to see what Deni and Lorront pull out of the hat next year!”
Lorront Carney got involved in the golf tournament early on. He grew up with Brian Brurud in Bartlesville and also went into the military, serving on the USS Saipan and the USS Independence.
“I was in from ’79 to ’83,” Carney said. “During my era we were called ‘The Yacht Club.’ That’s when the world was relatively calm. Toward the end of my tenure, Desert Storm started kicking up. I saw the generation underneath me come home from the war disabled, and it touched my heart. I committed to America to not let another generation of war veterans come home and be ignored.”
“The outpouring of support was incredible,” Carney continued. “Jerry Koehler, Jr. is a retired Master Chief from the Air Force and also an excellent photographer. He volunteered to be there. The outpouring of support was incredible. People saw the benefit of the cause and wanted to be part of it.”