Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc. provides experiences for military
I had the great honor and privilege of joining a handful of American Armed Forces veterans for a little fishing a couple of weeks ago. We were accompanied by a group of volunteers from the Grand Valley Anglers Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Thanks to a great national program called Project Healing Waters, local TU volunteers work with veterans on, as its website reads, “the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing and fly tying education and outings.”
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., was founded in 2005 to provide “basic fly fishing, fly casting, and fly tying instruction for wounded personnel, ranging from beginners to those with prior fly fishing experience, who are adapting their skills to their new abilities,” according to the website (projecthealingwaters. org).
Although initially focused on military personnel in the Washington DC area, the program now offers its services to active military personnel and veterans in military and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the nation. More than 70 such programs have been established in the U.S. and Canada.
“The idea is to help these guys and gals overcome obstacles related to military disabilities,” said TU volunteer Kevin Matthews, who’s also a nurse at the Grand Junction VA Medical Center. “We mostly deal with veterans here in Grand Junction, but the Healing Waters group in Colorado Springs deals a lot with active duty personnel.
“We help a number of folks with physical disabilities,” he said, “but we also help folks with post-traumatic stress disorder and internal brain injuries. This program is every bit as important to them. They’re dealing with a lot of stuff, you know? A lot more than you and me.”
The idea that fly fishing can be a lifelong recreation, both physically and emotionally, is why Project Healing Waters joined forces with organizations like the Federation of Fly Fishers and TU. Within local clubs and chapters, such as the Grand Valley Anglers, volunteers work with hospital staff and donate time to teach the various skills involved in the sport of fly fishing.
Project Healing Waters is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity, is dependent on tax-deductible financial donations and the help of numerous volunteers to meet the educational, training, equipment, transportation, and related outing needs of the participants.
The project strives to effectively serve its participants. But it’s more than that. It’s friendship. It’s love. It’s helping others who have given everything for us.
Judging from the smiles on the faces of the participants, it works.
Even in a downpour.
For three months prior to our trip, participants learned to tie flies, cast a fly line and generally figure out the basics of fly fishing. Through the guidance of Charlie Hensel, project coordinator for the Grand Valley Anglers, classes were taught through the VA Medical Center.
Then, Jim Temple generously opened his private ponds on Orchard Mesa to the entire group, as he’s done a half-dozen times in the past. Each veteran had at least two volunteers ready to assist.
Even in a downpour.
Despite the cold and wet weather, a great time was had by all, and most everyone caught fish.
“I just got too cold,” said Navy veteran Dawn Gain, who served in Kuwait and Iraq, “but I think I’ll get the hang of it.”
Gain was introduced to Healing Waters through Ryan Keyes and the recreational therapy program at VA Med Center, and completed a seven-session fly-tying course in January.
“This was actually the first time she’s been fishing,” Hensel said. “Mike Simmons, on the other hand, didn’t do any fly tying, but he took one casting class, then went out to Jim Temple’s.”
Simmons, a double-amputee, was busy catching large trout from Temple’s ponds in the rainstorm when Kevin asked, “Did Dawn show you her flies? They’re, like, commercial quality! She’s good.”
One veteran who did not attend this cold Saturday fishing excursion was Rocky Mountain Region Project Healing Waters Participant of the Year — local vet Ron Rudy, who has learned to cast and catch fish with only one arm, something most of us can’t do with both.
Hensel said Rudy received the award because he “embodies someone who really benefited, was enthusiastic, and has exemplified the nature of what Project Healing Waters is doing.”
Hensel noted that Matthews also received special recognition as the region’s Volunteer of the Year. The region includes Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota. Both received new Orvis rod and reel outfits at the 13th Annual Western Colorado Fly Fishing Exposition banquet last month.
“We’re always looking for more volunteers,” Hensel said.
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