MARATHON (CBSMiami/FKNB) —  Dozens of wounded military veterans got some therapy with the dolphins during their annual Soldier Ride in the Florida Keys this week.

The ride bus which is a cycling trip down the Overseas Highway concludes in Key West Sunday.

Many of the soldiers entered the water at Dolphin Research Center in Marathon Friday afternoon for an interactive session that included dorsal fin tows, flipper shakes and even dolphin kisses.

For retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Rivera, who sustained a spinal injury in Iraq in 2010, the first-time dolphin experience was pure joy, and a bonding experience with both animals and his comrades.

Rivera said one of the benefits of this kind of event is to get fellow veterans out of the house, back with the community and doing things with other wounded soldiers.

“I got a chance to kiss the dolphin,” the 45-year-old retired veteran said. “Got a chance to hold the dorsal fin and swim back and forth.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” he said.

But Rivera said the most rewarding facet of the session was the reactions of his comrades, many who lost limbs in Iraq or Afghanistan or are suffering from injuries that are not visually apparent.

“It was great to see smiles on all our faces,” he said. “Most of us came here kind of nervous … but once we got in the water it was high-five time and fun, fun, fun.”

Before their dolphin encounter, the veterans pedaled across the Seven Mile Bridge, the longest of 42 spans over water that help comprise the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, using state-of-the-art adaptive bicycles. The bridge crosses the convergence of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

Soldier Ride is organized by the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project that empowers injured veterans through rehabilitative opportunities to restore their physical and emotional well-being.

Source: The Florida Keys News Bureau

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