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Horrific accident motivates Florida nonprofit into taking veterans on ski trips
News-Journal - 12/20/2019
JUPITER - In 2004, the lives of Molly and Mike Raymond changed in an instant.
A group of teenagers were drag racing two cars at 95 miles per hour in Fairfax County, Va., when they crashed into Molly's car, sending it spinning around against a guard rail and causing her head to slam against the window.
Her resulting traumatic brain injury left Molly, then a NICU nurse and an avid lover of the outdoors, unable to practice her profession and with difficulty speaking.
"It was rough for a few years," said Mike, who relocated to Jupiter with Molly from Reston, Va., in January to be closer to their daughter. "Until it happens in your own house, you never appreciate the role and responsibility of a caregiver."
However, Molly ended up finding another purpose in life through No Boundaries, a nonprofit she formed with Mike that is dedicated to helping those with serious injuries like hers enjoy being outdoors again.
After her accident, Molly missed skiing, something she and Mike did regularly with their two daughters. She was determined to get back to it.
"I was told too many times 'can't,' 'won't,' 'no,' ... those three words," she said. "And I think it just lit a fire under me like, 'Just watch me,' because I was very athletic. When I was able to realize I could do things, I just had to adapt my ability."
While in Denver one year, Mike, who works in government information technology, put Molly in touch with the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colo. She then developed a passion for adaptive skiing, and it was on one of her trips at NSCD that she had an idea: Inspired by her previous volunteer work with combat-wounded veterans in Washington, D.C., she wanted to take vets on an adaptive sports trip so they could have a similar experience to hers.
"She called me and told me, 'I think God did this for a reason,'" Mike said.
In 2013, the Raymonds formed No Boundaries after gaining enough funding to do a trial-run trip. Now in its seventh year, the nonprofit has taken about 150 veterans with PTSD, TBI and amputated limbs on trips designed to build their confidence and get them back to living their best lives.
Twice a year, during summer and winter, the Raymonds take 10 to 12 veterans on an all-expenses-paid trip to Utah or Colorado for an action-packed week of adaptive sports. Winter trips feature downhill skiing, snow tubing and hockey, and summer trips include rock climbing, kayaking and mountain biking.
During each six-day trip, the Raymonds and the veterans spend the week together in a house and live as a family without their caregivers, something that is required of each participant.
"This is a time for them to focus on themselves and realize when they get back, 'I don't need help doing this,'" Molly said. "Taking meds, getting dressed without someone. It teaches them to start taking back more command of what they do on a daily basis."
Many combat-wounded veterans don't do well at home after war, Molly said. Many of them receive Dear John letters from spouses and lose the will to live. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 512 veterans committed suicide in Florida in 2017.
"What they need the most is people who understand them, that they feel safe enough to open up and talk to," Mike said. "They open up in a therapeutic way that they would never do in a one-hour session at the VA."
Molly, who Mike calls "the heart and soul" of No Boundaries, calls each trip applicant to make sure they're in the right mental state to come on the trip.
Because they are still new to Jupiter, the Raymonds are looking for ways to spread No Boundaries locally. They hope to add another trip during the year in Florida that would include fishing and surfing, and they also would like to work with the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center. They hope to get in touch with Rep. Brian Mast, who is an Army veteran and a double amputee, and convince him to come on a trip.
Now, Molly has regained most of her executive functions, even though she can never be a nurse again. However, she says she is one at heart.
"I'm still helping people," she said. "Just in a different way."
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