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Warrior Couples Take a Splash at Marineland to Grow Relationships

On a foggy February day in Florida, feelings of love and friendship filled the air as veteran couples fixated on a few dolphins majestically swimming by.

Splash! Army veteran Nikischia Lawrence howled with laughter as a dolphin’s quick maneuver soaked the group. With an arm extended around her husband and fellow Army veteran, Gregory Southerland, she smiled about their shared experience and pending growth.

“My husband and I have a lot of firsts,” Nikischia said. “This was one of the big firsts for us.”

Nikischia and Gregory were one of seven veteran couples who enjoyed swimming with dolphins at Marineland Dolphin Adventure in St. Augustine. The activity was part of a Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) couples mental health workshop called Project Odyssey®.

“This is a beautiful way to experience true love,” Gregory said. “It’s emotional, it’s verbal, it’s physical. And what could be better than that?”

The 12-week mental health program uses adventure-based learning to help warriors manage and overcome their invisible wounds, enhance their resiliency skills, and live productive and fulfilling lives. Based on their unique needs, warriors can participate in all-male, all-female, or couples Project Odysseys. During the COVID-19 pandemic, WWP is offering Project Odyssey both in-person and virtually to ensure warriors and their loved ones are most comfortable on their journeys to recovery.

During a couples Project Odyssey, warriors and their loved ones focus on developing their communication skills, increasing their fondness for each other, and strengthening their trust and commitment to their relationships. The most significant takeaway many couples experience is restoring their friendship.

The program starts with a five-day mental health workshop, where couples are challenged to step outside the comfort of their everyday routines. The workshop’s adventure-based activities empower participants to learn more about themselves and their loved one in a fun and safe environment. Swimming with dolphins at Marineland was part of that journey for this group of couples. 

“We give them strategies to help move through the stress of doing something new, so they do take that step and enjoy the experience,” said WWP Project Odyssey Specialist Charlie delaCruz Honea. “One of the things we also want to do at a couples Project Odyssey is create shared meaning for that couple. And this is an activity that they get to experience together.”

Couples can be comprised of two warriors like Nikischia and Gregory, or a warrior and a family support member, like Bob and Lisa Woodin. Throughout Bob’s long career in the Air Force, Lisa often did not have the opportunity to interact with other, like-minded military spouses. The Project Odyssey experience helped fill that void and build their relationship.

“It was great to see family members getting involved, talking, and interacting with each other,” Lisa said. “Oftentimes, I thought it was for the warrior only. Being a part of it as a family helps you grow.”

Over the next 11 weeks, the couples will stay engaged with WWP teammates to achieve a goal they each set during the workshop. More often than not, the experience at the event and the goal established there set the stage for lifelong, positive changes in the couples’ lives.

For Nikischia and Gregory, Project Odyssey is “an amazing opportunity.”

“The fact that both of us are warriors and we both get to come to something that can better both of us at the same time,” Nikischia said. “As he grows, I grow. There’s no one left behind.”

Contact: Jon Blauvelt — Public Relations, jblauvelt@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.426.9756

About Wounded Warrior Project

Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

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