Jereme Sawyer with Wake for Warriors

THE "JERM": Before hitting Lake Granbury last week, Jereme "Jerm" Sawyer had never wakeboarded/surfed but thanks to Wake for Warriors he is now hooked on the sport.

The fourth annual Wake for Warriors hit Lake Granbury Aug. 19-22 for four inspirational days of wakeboarding, confidence-building, and straight-out fun times.

Founded by Dave Deep, a retired Marine LTC and veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, Wake for Warriors is a 501c charitable organization focused on getting wounded warriors involved in wakeboarding and much more.

After 28 years of military service and more than 250 combat missions as an AH-1W Cobra attack helicopter pilot, Deep hung up his spurs, bought a boat, and began relaxing on the water.

The water was Deep’s place, in his home state of Alabama, to find solace and peace. It brought about a sense of serenity he wanted to share with others.

To the average passerby, the Wake for Warriors flotilla on the river section of Lake Granbury appears to be a group of people having a fun-filled day on the water – but life-changing events are going on and off-board those boats.

“This is life-changing for them,” Deep said. “This isn’t dragging somebody behind a boat. Wake for Warriors is about camaraderie, making connections, and gaining confidence. It’s what keeps me going.”

That may be an understatement from a guy organizing up to 60 Wake for Warriors events per year and with a four-day model of operation. It takes local organizations and people with the right kind of boats to create a wake for boarding.

The coordination takes lots of local effort from people like Robb and Sara Moody, who opened up their lakeside home and dock area as a staging point.

The Moodys sought out other boaters who owned Nautique boats specially designed for wakeboarding — and once Granbury’s Greg Meyer, Allen Jefferies, and Schuyler Kuykendall found out why, they were all in to help.

Tyler Densford with Wake for Warriors

ZOOMING: In three years, Tyler Densford has gone from being in a wheelchair to being a wakeboarding/surfing competitor. 

LIFE-SAVING

Tyler Densford was an airman in the Air Force when he was injured in a training accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. In his 20s and an entire life ahead of him, it was understandably a dark time as his reality set it in.

“I was in a dark place, and I didn’t feel like I had much to live for,” Densford said. “I was wondering what I had to offer to the world.”

Three years later, after being introduced to Deep and Wake for Warriors, Densford’s outlook on life has taken a dramatic change.

“It’s a blessing, and I couldn’t be more grateful,” Densford said. “I’m free and out of my wheelchair out there with my brothers in arms.’

What started as a nerve-racking experience with Deep on his first outing has grown to Densford now competing in the wakeboarding adaptive competitions and working with Wake for Warriors as a board member.

One of his life’s purposes is working with the organization where he often captains the boat because he has a unique feel and connection to other wakeboarders.

“If I were going to tell someone in my situation about coming out and taking part, I would have to say be ‘patient’ and trust those helping you. You can do it,” Densford said.

THE NEW GUY

Unlike Densford, who has three years of experience, Jereme (Jerm) Sawyer had never been on a wakeboard before. He flew in from Tenino, Washington, for his first experience.

Sawyer, a double amputee who lost his legs in a 2011 improvised explosive device incident in Afghanistan, has gone through many of the same mental and physical challenges as Densford. The explosion that took his mobility left him in a hospital for six months of agonizing skin graft surgeries and rehabilitation. Two more months of rehab and training followed his hospital stay.

“I was very nervous and wondering how I was going to be able to wakeboard,” Sawyer said. “I saw other people walking around, and some had prosthetics, but I’m a double amputee.”

Enter Deep, who since 2012 has had hundreds of fellow veterans in the water, and he’s prepared for whatever the situation throws at him.

“I was very nervous, and I think we clashed a little bit at first, but he was very patient with me,” Sawyer said. “What was working for other people didn’t work for me, but he helped me find what would work for me.”

It happened quickly, too.

“I kept trying to get up on my board, and I couldn’t do it the first few times (five), and then suddenly I was up and skiing,” Swayer said. “I didn’t want to let go of the rope because it was so hard to get up.”

But let go, he did.

“I think it was on my sixth or seventh try, and I let go of the rope,” Sawyer said. “It was so awesome. Those guys are there in the boat cheering for me and encouraging me. Once I found my sweet spot on the board, it was wonderful.”

By day three, Swayer’s confidence was so built up he was waving peace signs and pointing at the camera with his eyes off his board.

GRANBURY’S AIR FORCE

Before heading out to work on their newfound skills Saturday, the boarders were grouped for a surprise salute in the form of a flyover by Granbury area pilots Larry Henney, Marvin Doberenz, Robert Meggs, Daniel Henney, Marty Parish and Ed Asking.

The men performed a double pass flyover complete with smoke trailing from the wingmen’s planes to the thunderous roar of approval from the crowd. The event was made even more special when it was learned that pilot Daniel Henney would be leaving Monday for flight training with the U.S. Navy.

Kyle "Nelly" Nelson and Airforce Major Christy Wise

BIG DONOR: People like Airforce Major Christy Wise, right, have benefited from Wake for Warriors and Granbury's Kyle "Nelly" Nelson, right, has been a big donor.

DIFFERENCE-MAKER

Granbury resident Kyle “Nelly” Nelson started the ball rolling toward Wake for Warriors hosting a local event. He said that his action was triggered by dissatisfaction with how his tithe donation was being used by his church led six years ago.

“My parents raised my sister and me to tithe 10 percent of our earnings to the church, but I wasn’t seeing my money being put to use locally,” Nelson said. “We would be going to candlelight service, and instead of hearing about God, we were being asked to donate more money. I wanted to find something different.”

Hitting Facebook, Nelson cruised the site looking for a place he felt deserving and needed help. The avid wakeboarder thinks God had a hand in his finding the Wake for Warriors page.

“I have always enjoyed wakeboarding, and when I read about what they were doing, it just seemed like the right fit for me,” Nelson said.

Fixed on where he would donate, Nelson starting sending his money week after week, and Deep noticed and wanted to meet the guy who was sending money and asking for nothing in return. Once the two got together, there was no stopping them from organizing such an event on Lake Granbury.

What started as three wakeboarders four years ago has grown to 18 with five boats — which is about the limit when considering logistics and safety,

GENEROUS DONATIONS

“I would like to thank the countless volunteers who helped out and a special thanks to Grumps, Stumpy’s, Hard 8 BBQ, Firefly (John Wayne Shaw), Chicken Express for the food donations and to Walmart for the bottled water,” Sara Moody said.

Russell@hcnews.com | 817-573-7066 Ext. 231