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Wounded Warriors Find Therapy In Keys Dolphins

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Jessie Fletcher, a U.S. Marine sniper seriously injured in Afghanistan, greets Aleta the dolphin at the Dolphin Research Center Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, in Marathon, Fla. (Courtesy: Kathi Rogers/Florida Keys News Bureau)

Jessie Fletcher, a U.S. Marine sniper seriously injured in Afghanistan, greets Aleta the dolphin at the Dolphin Research Center Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, in Marathon, Fla. (Courtesy: Kathi Rogers/Florida Keys News Bureau)

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MARATHON, Florida Keys  (CBS4)- It was a different kind of therapy for about 30 wounded military veterans who had an interactive session with dolphins in the Florida Keys Saturday.

The event was during a stop within a three-day Soldier Ride cycling event that began in Miami Thursday and ends in Key West Saturday.

Some soldiers swam with the dolphins at Dolphin Research Center Friday afternoon, while others shared flipper shakes and learned training techniques to encourage the dolphins to execute various behaviors.

For Michael DeLancey, a 26-year-old Marine Corps lance corporal who was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in Iraq in 2006, the experience was rewarding.

“That personal level … and they’re (dolphins are) smart,” he said. “Just like a little kid and with being with an injury, little kids are the best people to be around because they always have a smile on their face, and they try to make you feel better.”

DeLancey said he was a little apprehensive at first about getting into the water with dolphins.

“At first I was a little nervous cause I wasn’t knowing what I was getting into; touching it (the dolphin) and things like that, but they’re very friendly, and within a minute that went out the door,” he said.

Following their dolphin encounter, participants pedaled across the Seven Mile Bridge, the longest span of 43 bridges that help comprise the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.

woundedwarriors bike Wounded Warriors Find Therapy In Keys Dolphins

Wounded veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan pedal their way across the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, near Marathon, Fla. (AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy Newman)

Although many riders are missing one or more limbs after combat injuries, they used bicycles with special adaptive equipment to participate in support of their injured comrades.

Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit whose mission is to raise public awareness and support for the needs of severely injured members of the military involved in Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The organization’s cross-country and Keys bicycle trips provide rehabilitative opportunities for injured soldiers.

Moneys raised during the trips are used to fund basic comfort items for wounded soldiers upon their return to the U.S., conduct adaptive sporting events and clinics to foster independence among those with catastrophic injuries, transport soldiers and their families between home and hospital and develop supportive peer-mentoring programs.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Andy Newman of the Florida News Bureau contributed material for this report)

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