Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On the Fly: Project Healing Waters

This week was a tough one with many obstacles to overcome and side step. One of those was getting insulted and competing with a neuropsychologist that has Alzheimer's. MUCH more on that later. One of those obstacles is trying to find something to relieve the stress and tension in my husband, as well as myself, as he hasn't been doing too good here lately. One of these "somethings" I have mentioned before, is getting involved with the Project Healing Waters organization which has a chapter here where I live and meets at our VA. After speaking a while with the State Coordinator and threatening my husband with every inch of his life about going, we attended the 8th Annual Trout Fest in Townsend, TN upon an invitation by the Project Healing Waters state coordinator, Scott Scrip and local chapter officer, "Ed". 

Now yes, I know some of you will be like, "Trout Fest? Seriously?" Yes...this star spangled hearted woman dragged her husband all the way up to the mountains! We didn't have a lot of money and was quite a bit ways up the road, but they made our accommodations for us and I couldn't pass it up. I thought if I could just get him pushed in the right direction, perhaps he will find peace in the waters. Nestled deep in the Mountains of Cades Cove, you couldn't have asked for a more relaxing weekend or meet some better people. Now what do I mean about better people? Just down to earth. It wasn't about your job, the time, the was just about getting out on the water and just fishing. I had to admire and somewhat envy people that can find peace like that and simpleness. I learned quite a bit, especially for a girl who only knows how to hold a pole and doesn't know a thing about any type of fishing! I wasn't sure on everything that Project Healing Waters did as an organization, but my husband used to be an avid fly fisherman when I had met him. After war, he just gave up all his interests and hobbies. The idea was to get him up there, spend a little time among other avid fly fishermen, and take him out on the river this weekend. So that's exactly what we did.

I learned quite a bit about PHWFF over the weekend as I voluntarily manned the booth they had set up while the boys went fishing. Founded in 2005, this organization originally began at Walter Reed Hospital as they taught fly tying and casting to wounded soldiers there on the grounds. It eventually grew into large groups including such organizations and chapters of the Trout Unlimited groups as well as the Federation of Fly Fishers. The organization made up of volunteers, teach these wounded individuals fly casting, tying of the flies and about the fish themselves and the resources found on the lakes and rivers. They can provide assistance, education, and learning opportunities as well as equipment, gear and fishing outings on some of the best stocked rivers around. So no matter the disability, they have someone to help you.

Author and Fly Fisher Joe Humphreys Teaching Fly Tying

Saturday, the first day we arrived, we were greeted and warmly so. The guys got my husband out on the water before the crowds got to be too much for him. My husband was a little agitated and very anxious, but by 4 the was like he had never laid down the pole in that short time out on the waters. While walking around and snickering over all these men comparing the size of their fly poles and bragging on their latest catch, it amazed me to be in such lovely company and how much knowledge was to be gained by utilizing our state's resources. I learned a ton just on the entomology of the rivers than I probably ever really wanted to, the right equipment and flies to get the biggest trout, but more much the water heals the persons inner being in all sorts of people inflicted with mild to serious health concerns and issues. I met veterans of the WWII era all the way down to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars there, who's only time their demons do not haunt them, is when they are on the water. It was interesting to see how many of these people just fish and how it gives them that time to be at peace.  One gentlemen told me if he could, he would fish every day. I met elderly people with health issues who seemed for that short time fishing, forget how they hurt or what parts just don't work like they used to.

I also met the group Casting For Recovery which is a breast cancer support organization that teaches fishing and helps relieve the physical and emotional pain from cancer. CFW had some great people there and I could find that talking about PTSD was relatively easy as she just "got" it. Amazing amazing stories from some really neat people. The Casting For Recovery girls make and tie their own flies then donate them to PHWFF for the wounded warriors to use out on the water so they are all somewhat connected with each other. They also get out and fish, do outings and is similar to PHWFF but for those who have cancer. I wanted to include this link because I do get from time to time emails in regards to PTSD and Cancer. Thought you ladies might find it interesting.

Hubby Fixing his Fly Vest For The Outing. He kept dropping stuff but wouldn't give up!

My husband was rather subdued when he came back off the water, in which I thought he might have been tired. It was more calm and relaxed I realized later; something I haven't seen in a very long time.We went back to our our rental cabin which to us, was more like an exotic tree house set up high in the woods. That allowed  me to relax a little in the peace and quiet. We had some time to ourselves without all the fuss of the VA, disability and the Army. I took advantage of the jacuzzi tub while my husband was out there getting his fishing gear up to par for the first time in almost six years so he could be ready for the early morning fishing trip. When I was done, I sat there from the doorway seeing him working and it brought a smile to my heart and face, because finally...we reached something of his old self even for just that short period of time. It was nice to see him finally have something to look forward to and he said to me "I really missed being out there and they showed me how to do such and such".  Like a child that learned something new, he was quite proud of himself and seemed happy. I had no idea what he was referring to, but I grinned and said "well thank the lord, cause if we don't find you something I am gonna have to get rid of you!". It was a nice evening in our tree house cabin and so peaceful, I didn't want to leave. He had some difficulty running his line, which if you know anything about fishing, is just about near invisible. He is having some issues with psycho-motor skills impairment now and weakness in his left hand, but he didn't give up. I sat on the arm of the chair and held the lines he needed to work with. It was nice to just take a breathe and not have to worry about anything over the weekend.

Fly Casting Clinic

On Sunday, we met back up with the guys from PHWFF and they took off to take my husband and two other disabled veterans to the mountain rivers for fishing while I once more manned the booth talking to people about the organization. It was nice to talk to these people because although familiar with the program, they hadn't seen the real thing in action in which I was pure testimony that "hey, they have my husband out there on the water right now". It spawned some renewed interest, volunteer interest and donations. It was pure luck that the photographer Randy Frank was there and volunteered his time, his film and his exceptional talent to catch our wounded warriors out on the river while fishing.

Randy did more than 160 shots and all of them are absolutely amazing with brilliant shots of the water and the looks on the faces of these men as they stood in that rushing river. His keen eye caught everything down from the lines whipping back and the right position to catch some of these amazing photographs. Randy came back afterward and just bragged and bragged on how well our veterans did and just made me laugh. I know that his kindness and exceptional eye for a photo, made me thankful he could document such a feat for my family. They weren't shots of the guys posing, or smiling...just photos of being out there and natural without a care in the world. While talking with me, Randy explained that the Budhist religion holds a strong favor towards the healing powers of the water. I believe that to be true. Looking at the photographs, it looked like my old husband out there. Just fishing and only worrying about the way the trout were hitting the flies. So Randy, if you read this...thank you sir for donating the pictures and your time. I know it may have seemed small to you, but you have given us a great gift and my boys will treasure those photographs of their daddy being "normal". Those are photographs of how we knew him. I know I will treasure them forever.

I worked the booth until the guys came back after lunch and met some of the more legendary fly fishers of the U.S. like "The Legend" Lefty Kreh. It was fun overall although I really worried that I would be totally out of my league there. The Project Healing Waters chapter took really good care of us and most definitely got my husband back out there and his interest renewed. We are looking forward to working with them in the future as well as going on different activities. They have several area activities coming up and my husband is a part of them. I am relieved and so thankful because this will give him some hope, confidence and some time to be at peace with the world around him. I think for the time he is out on the water, he just isn't so angry at the world or have the time to keep seeing war images in his head. He said its like having your brain cleared for a little while, and I could understand because it was there, in those photographs.

For those that are interested in the program for Wounded Warriors, just check out the link I provided to PHWFF and click on programs. You will need to contact your state coordinator via email or phone, which ever is listed and let them know where you are. They will direct you to the person you need to be in touch with. There are also chapters of PHWFF on FB as well for different states and parts of the states, if you are a FB junkie! Ours here, meets twice a month so it may vary from state to state. The OIF/OEF caseworkers should be aware of this program so you can ask them. If they don't, create the awareness of such programs like this! This way you are helping another Veteran in the process. This can be for the spouses and family is welcome, so those of you who are looking for some bonding time...this would be a great way to start.

Even if you don't know what you are doing, don't have a clue on what "flies" are and tying, you will fit right on in there...I promise. There is no cost, you don't need your equipment as they can help you with that and definitely fun! Project Healing Waters is a wonderful organization and you know I will give you the skinny off the cow if it didn't work for us. Check them out if you are a PTSD sufferer who likes the outdoors or you are just trying to find something different to tackle the demons. I know many of you readers are Veterans, its a PERFECT place for you. You got fishing buddies, who know when to be quiet and when to talk. There is no therapy/group talking, there is no VA hanging over are just being one with the elements and with others who just "know". It's worth your time to try it.

Pass this information on to others who might utilize this resource. They are always looking to open new chapters, gain new volunteers and donations to keep it going. I thoroughly enjoyed manning the booth for PHWW and just talking with folks. It gave them an awareness about our injured military personnel I don't think they knew much about. It is also very healing for me to talk about what our life is like to others and create that awareness in regards to PTSD and TBI. I may even try to cast a line or two myself in the future!

Again, special thanks to PHWFF and I look forward to volunteering my time and seeing my husband in this program. You guys made a special impact on our lives, especially since it has been so upside down and sideways here lately. It not only gave us a break, but it gave my husband a little hope and confidence again. For that, I can't tell you how much I am sincerely thankful to have come across your program.

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad you drug your soldier up there to fish. When my husband came home from his last deployment he told me all about a group with a crazy guy named Jerry he had met on-line. I was a little skeptical until I met everyone & saw the same healing powers my husband enjoys. He loves going when he can on the fishing trips & tying flies every Tuesday night after work.
    He is deploying again soon so he will miss a huge trip they have planned for our region. But that crazy man named Jerry , is taking our 13 year old son in my husband's place - so he doesn't have to miss out on fishing while his dad is deployed.
    They really are a great group of guys . So glad you found them.


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