Waters help bring healing to heroes with disabilities
A day on the river casting a line and waiting for a bite sounds like a great way to spend a summer afternoon.
For some, the adventure can be therapeutic in more ways than one.
A national non-profit organization – Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing – works with disabled active military personnel and disabled veterans to teach them fishing skills and get them out on the water. The local chapter works out of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home in Johnson City.
“It is about emotional and physical rehabilitation, and we do it through fly fishing,” said Russ Ambrose, the program lead for the chapter at the Mountain Home VA.
According to the organization’s website, Healing Waters was founded in 2005 at Walter Read Army Medical Hospital as a way to serve wounded military service members returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, the program has expanded nationwide, establishing itself Department of Defense hospitals, Warrior Transition Units, and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and clinics.
The Johnson City chapter started seven years ago, Ambrose said, and is one of 170 program chapters across the nation.
Healing Waters provides basic fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying and rod building classes, along with clinics to participants. The program works with participants with skills ranging from beginners who have never fished before, to those with prior fly fishing and tying experience who are adapting their skills to their new abilities. All fly fishing and tying equipment is provided to the participants at no cost. Fishing trips, both one day and multi-day, are also provided free of charge to participants.
Ambrose said the classes to help with fly-tying and rod-building help participants to improve motor skills while the fellowship they share with other participants helps them emotionally.
A disabled veteran himself, Ambrose came into the program three years ago. He enjoyed it so much he took on the role of program lead for the local chapter this year. Ambrose is a retired technical sergeant with the U.S. Air Force and a veteran of Desert Storm.
“For me it was the camaraderie with other veterans that have been places I have been,” he said. “We had a lot of things in common we could discuss.”
Ambrose said he also enjoys having the opportunity to use his skills in leadership and understanding to help his fellow service members.
The local chapter held an outing on Tuesday, taking 16 disabled veterans and disabled service members on a guided fishing tour down the Watauga River. The trip started at the river access point on Blevins Road and continued down stream to the access point at Wagner Road in Watauga.
Helping with Tuesday’s outing were officers of the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency.
“This is our first year helping out with the program,” said TWRA Wildlife Officer Dennis Ward. “We hope this is something we do on a regular basis for years to come.”
Ward said nine local river guides volunteered their time, equipment and talent to take the group down river for the day outing.
Preston Stotler, a U.S. Navy veteran, with service from 1958-1962, said he really enjoys the opportunities the program provides him.
“I like it because of the times we have together,” he said.
Mike Adams, a U.S. Army veteran from the Vietnam era, agreed that fellowship is what makes the program special.
“It is kind of an unspoken therapy just to be around the group,” he said.
Adams not only has participated in the program, he has also volunteered his time to help others with the program in the past. This is his seventh year with the program, and typically he serves as one of the river guides for the group.
“This is the first trip they’ve done that I’ve not been able to be a part of,” he said, adding he was not able to guide one of the boats this year because of an injury to his elbow.
Ambrose said Project Healing Waters is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which survives on donations and volunteer efforts. According to the organization’s website, the program receives no government funding to operate. Ambrose said the group is always looking for local donors to help support the program.
For more information on Project Healing Waters, visit the organization’s website at www.projecthealingwaters.org.
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