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Wounded warriors swim with dolphins in Florida Keys

The group of veterans spent the day with bottlenose dolphins after the three-day Soldier Ride cycling event.

MARATHON, Fla. — Over the weekend, some of our nation’s heroes got to spend the day with some of Florida’s friendliest marine mammals.

A group of wounded U.S. military veterans got some physical and emotional therapy from bottlenose dolphins on Sunday after the Wounded Warrior Project’s three-day Soldier Ride cycling event in the Florida Keys.

The group of soldiers, who have wounds ranging from missing limbs to less visible psychological injuries, shared kisses, flipper shakes, dorsal pulls and even underwater handstands with the dolphins, CBS Miami reports.

U.S. Marine Corps Captain Andrew Hairston, whose left leg was amputated below the knee following an injury sustained overseas, said activities through the Wounded Warrior Project help him and his fellow active-duty service members build confidence and warm up to new experiences, the TV station adds.

“They actually force us to step out of our comfort zone and do things that we typically wouldn’t normally do,” Hairston said. “I mean, how often do you get the opportunity to swim with dolphins, play with them, and whatnot?”

“Guys who normally don’t swim were hopping in the water to swim with them, so it’s a great opportunity to step out of your comfort zone” he added, speaking with CBS.

The visit was made possible by Dolphin Research Center, a nonprofit organization that "has committed itself to supporting veterans and active duty personnel from all branches of the United States military," its website reads. The center’s co-founder and chief operating officer, Armando “Mandy” Rodriguez is himself a Vietnam War veteran.

The Dolphin Research Center is an education and research facility that is home to rescued and rehabilitated dolphins and sea lions that have been deemed non-releasable back into the wild. 

At this year's annual Florida Keys Soldier Ride, almost 40 injured soldiers and their supporters pedaled their way across the Seven Mile Bridge and other parts of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. The Wounded Warrior Project's bicycle trips provide inspiration and rehabilitative opportunities for injured soldiers while raising money for others recovering in American military hospitals. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.