Shooting the Rapids Their pulses pounding and adrenaline spiking, whitewater rafters know the sport can induce some very white knuckles as they navigate rushing river waters. Gary Rapier of the Chesapeake Deep River Creek Lions Club in Virginia, an experienced rafter, wanted to share this exciting sport with the visually impaired. “This adventure would not only challenge their senses, but their courage to take on their fears of the unknown,” he says. Rapier and several Lions first helped guide 12 blind rafters down the New River in West Virginia during his year as 2009-10 District 24 Governor. The next year, he and then-District Governor Donna Weiler led another group. In 2013, Deep Creek Lions sponsored the trip, paying the way for two young blind rafters, although one declined just prior to the trip. Nikki Jeffords, a member of the Virginia Beach Town Center Lions Club who is blind, did go. “This was truly a lifechanging experience. I came home with more confidence and a sense of accomplishment. These were definitely not your grandma’s rapids,” she says lightly. Her husband, Chris, also a Lion, accompanied her. The other blind rafter, a young man named Noah, was with his parents. Jeffords, a vocational regional counselor for the Virginia Department for the Blind, says the rafting “builds self-confidence, self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment and a ‘can do’ attitude. I was scared but figured if other people could do it, I could do it, too.” Jeffords’ twin 7-year-old daughters were awestruck. “They were so impressed,” she says. “I think this will go a long way in showing them that even though their mom is blind, she can still do really cool things and be successful, too.” Rapier says, “Halfway down the river, we were given an opportunity to climb a 12-foot cliff and jump off. Everyone in our raft, including Nikki and Noah, climbed up and jumped off. We all cheered. Adventure complete; memories made. We’re ready to go again.” History is Made at Home Held captive aboard a ship in Baltimore Harbor in 1814, Francis Scott Key watched in stunned silence as Fort McHenry took cannon fire from British warships. So moved, he penned a passionate ode that revealed his deep pride in his country. On that desperate night even Key couldn’t have predicted the role his heartfelt words would play in the nation’s future. His poem eventually became “The Star-Spangled Banner,” chosen as America’s anthem more than 100 years after he wrote it. Key, born in Maryland in 1779, is so beloved in the state that the Francis Scott Key (FSK) Lions Club in Frederick is just one organization that bears the patriot’s name. Lions participated in a celebration of Key’s famous ode last summer during Maryland’s three-year commemoration marking the War of 1812—an event that actually continued for 31 months. The festivities included “Anthem & Author Reunited,” which brought Key’s priceless manuscript home to Frederick for two days. Lions volunteered their help. Nearly all of the club’s 25 members served as crowd control for the 2,300 people who waited to see the manuscript at the Frederick City Hall—formerly the county courthouse where Key once roamed the halls as an attorney. “To me, it actually looked more like a piece of paper,” says Lion Lynn Stimmel of the priceless poem. She’s correct. Key wrote the ode to American freedom on a scrap of paper he carried in his pocket. “It was a goosebump moment since you were right there looking at a piece of history,” she adds. A visit to Key’s gravesite at Mt. Olivet Cemetery capped off the celebration. In 1898, a stately granite monument was placed there to memorialize Key, who died in 1843. “This is where the manuscript was symbolically reunited with its author,” explains Stimmel of the program’s title. A procession from the courthouse to the gravesite included members of the police and fire departments, military, historians and residents. One of the speakers was FSK Lion Christopher Haugh of the Tourism Council of Frederick County, who was instrumental in securing Lions’ involvement. “It was a natural fit since Francis Scott Key is our namesake,” says Haugh. “I’m always thinking in historical terms regarding both our community and Lionism. This is due to my job promoting Frederick’s rich heritage along with the fact that I’m a third-generation Lion following in the footsteps of my late father and his father before him.” FSK Lion Raymond Gafney, 102, participated in the flagraising ceremony at Frederick’s Courthouse Square. As one of two remaining World War II veterans at Francis Scott Key Post 11 American Legion, he saluted the raising of a 15-star American flag that inspired Key to write his epic poem.
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