For Army veteran Eli Cantarero, rafting in the Grand Canyon was "a special trip."

"It was just really large, the magnitude of it," said the 29-year-old Stow resident Aug. 18. "It was just amazing."

Cantarero was among a group of 18 veterans from 11 states who took the trip in late July and early August, courtesy of Canyon Heroes, a non-profit organization.

"We serve veterans by providing an adventure therapy experience -- hiking and rafting the Colorado River to help heal the psychological wounds of war," says Canyon Heroes' website. "Trip participants are supported on their journeys by professional counselors with experience with the military community.

"Adaptive outdoor recreation, combined with professional counseling, can help veterans adjust, decompress and shed the complex responses that are related to everyday events."

The organization, founded in 2011, is based in Pennsylvania and partners with the 81-year-old Hatch River Expeditions to provide the annual trips. According to the National Park Service website, Hatch River Expeditions is an official NPS concessionaire in the Grand Canyon National Park.

Cantarero said he "just stumbled upon it" on the Internet and decided apply.

"It was a pretty cool trip," he said.

He said the trip totaled 188 miles over nearly a week and included hiking and cliff jumping into the river.

"We got to swim in some waterfalls. There's one waterfall you can jump into and it pushes you back out," said Cantarero. "I've never seen water that blue before."

He said another waterfall "was so clear, you can drink it. That was pretty cool."

He also said he made some friends, particularly one veteran named Sean who is the same age as Cantarero.

"He was in the Marines," he said.

Cantarero, who now works in online sales, served as an Army infantryman from 2004 to 2007, a time that included two tours in Iraq.

"I celebrated my 19th birthday in Iraq," he said. "It was a lot different than here."

He said he remembers the palpable smell of burning garbage and going out on "missions."

"Every night we were on call," said Cantarero. "I felt safe because the people I was with were highly trained and God was looking out for me."

Shortly before taking the trip, Cantarero said he hoped the trip would help him build up his confidence and skills.

"I look forward to meeting and interacting with other veterans," he said. "We have an understanding of each other that I don't find with others."

After the trip, he said it helped him deal with "a lot of negativity."

"This brought in more balance in my life," he said. "Just seeing it takes you away. While you're there, you forget what day it is."

Veterans going on the trip pay a small cost for insurance while Canyon Heroes pays transportation, lodging and expedition costs with donations. Go to for more information.

"I'd rather be there than the richest mansion in the world," said Cantarero.


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