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Veterans group finds healing in outdoor adventures in WNC

Dozens of people filed past the counter at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Many were seeking thrills on the white water rapids, while others were seeking the tranquility of a hike. There was one group -- Team Semper Fi Fund -- that was looking for something a little different. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Dozens of people filed past the counter at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Many were seeking thrills on the white water rapids, while others were seeking the tranquility of a hike.

There was one group that was looking for something a little different.

“It's a whole new experience,” said Jeremy Lyons, who grew up in Greenville, South Carolina.

Lyons had been into the woods of Western North Carolina before, but this time was different.

Lyons and about two dozen other former military members were visiting the site with Team Semper Fi, a group that takes injured veterans on outdoor experiences to help them rehabilitate, physically and mentally. The veterans range from multiple amputees to those suffering PTSD, and Team Semper Fi provides opportunities around the country.

“We like to go to spots that are not only beautiful, as this place is, but accommodating to the type of athlete we're dealing with,” said Brent Peterson, the Sports Program manager for TSF.

During the stay at NOC, the group went hiking, rafting and kayaking.

“For me, personally, the outdoors is my escape,” explained Lyons. “It's where I go to get away from all the stress.”

Lyons was lit on fire during a tour in Fallujah (Iraq) when he was pouring diesel gasoline into a burn pit which exploded.

As much as the activities help the participants, the opportunity to spend time with others who understand is just as valuable.

“It's nice because a lot of times at home if you are going through some stuff, you don't really want to talk to the people around you,” said Lyons. “So, when you're here, even if you're not struggling, you can see someone else who's struggling and try to help them, because you understand them, and they get that, too.”

Lyons said he’s been on seven Team Semper Fi trips, many with several of the same former servicemen and women that accompanied him to NOC.

Team Semper Fi is a program offered through the Semper Fi Fund, which provides financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 wounded, critically ill, and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

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