Friday, August 17, 2012

Gone Fishing

Mark Yost had a piece in yesterday's WSJ on Project Healing Waters:

But for a few days earlier this month, Spruce Creek became the "River of Heroes." That's when Homewaters, one of those private clubs, hosted Project Healing Waters, a unique program that brings disabled vets to some of the most magnificent fly-fishing spots in the country.

Healing Waters is the brainchild of Ed Nicholson, who spent 30 years in the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer before working a decade more as a defense contractor. In 2005, at the height of the carnage in Iraq, he was at Walter Reed and saw the soldiers and sailors hobbling around on crutches and struggling through rehab, and thought, "I should take a couple of these guys fishing with me."

Seven years later, Healing Waters is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that has 130 branches nationwide. Although it is not an official program of the Veterans Administration, Mr. Nicholson's staff, many of whom are former Healing Waters participants, runs the program through local VA centers. The program is open to any disabled vet, not just those from Iraq and Afghanistan. All expenses are paid. The vets don't even need a fly rod.

And while Healing Waters wasn't designed as a mental-health program and there are no counselors on the trips, the very nature of fly fishing—the serenity, the simple routine of fly casting—makes it all very therapeutic.

 "When we started this, I thought it would just be great to take some of these guys fishing," Mr. Nicholson said. "But I can't tell you the number of times someone has come up to me and said: 'Thank you. This program saved my life.'"

That's because Healing Waters is about much more than a few days of fishing. Yes, there are a dozen or so national trips, which this year included treks to Maine, Alaska and Yellowstone. But most of the work is done locally, with monthly fly-tying and casting workshops taught by volunteers and local excursions.

"For many of these guys, fly fishing has become a tool of recovery, both mentally and physically," Mr. Nicholson said.

A great idea and a great cause.