With America’s ongoing wars and soldiers serving three and four tours and veteran suicide numbers are disheartening, Project Healing Waters teaches fly fishing.
A nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans surmount depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other battle-related wounds, Project Healing Waters can offer a path back to living, even fulfillment.
“It’s about more than teaching a man to fish,” said Dave Brown of Woodland Park, fly fisherman/mentor who helped raise $25,000 for the organization last month. “I’ve been fly fishing since I was 7, always had a passion for it.”
The organization is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of veterans.
“They come back from the war and have gone through trauma, physical, mental, or both,” Brown said. “Oftentimes, because of the trauma, they have a tendency to go into their own world, get very isolated.”
The organization believes fishing can be a step to casting off the effects of trauma. “It starts out where we get them on the water into an environment that’s outside of their own shell,” Brown said. “So now they’re in beautiful God’s-country environment, so it’s above and beyond of what happens when they’re laying on a couch in a doctor’s office.”
Brown is enthusiastic about the possibilities for veterans. “Here’s where it gets really cool — you take this artificial fly made with feathers, wool, thread and wire, try to make it look like the real thing in the water,” Brown said. “If they don’t focus on that fly every single second, then when a fish comes up to take that fly, two seconds later it’s too late.”
Sally Fant of Woodland Park was the first woman to be take veterans on a fishing adventure. “It’s very special when you see somebody on a trip, because in some cases they’re on suicide watch and in terrible shape,” she said.
Fant recalls a veteran from Texas who threatened suicide but signed on to a 2 1/2 day fishing/camping trip. “He had never fished before but the moment he stepped in that water it was amazing to see the change,” she said. “He would talk and you could see the pain, the anger, the battles he fought.”
The soldier had been deployed four times. “The last tour, his buddy got blown up beside him,” she said. “He was in terrible shape. But as the weekend went on it was amazing (to see him open up).”
Fant and Brown, who grew up in Woodland Park, have shone a spotlight on the organization for people in Woodland Park, many of whom donated to the sold-out fundraiser Feb. 2 at Stargazers Theatre in Colorado Springs.
Neil Levy, who owns the Swiss Chalet, contributed an overnight at Upstairs at the Swiss Chalet along with dinner and breakfast, as well as dinner at his Peppertree restaurant in Colorado Springs.
“Veterans are an important past of our community; we have so many who live here,” Levy said. “We are fortunate in being able to do this. I have the greatest admiration and appreciation for our veterans.”
Park State Bank & Trust donated $500 toward the matching-fund program. “The mission of Project Healing Waters is tremendous and I think Dave’s leadership in advocating for us locally here is a factor,” said Tony Perry, the bank’s president. “I was a military-dependent so I grew up with an affinity for those who serve. Even the aspect of fly tying is beneficial, being able to focus for short periods of time is really critical, especially for those who have traumatic brain injury.”
Project Healing Waters goes to all the rivers in Colorado and, to date, has helped more than 500 veterans. “The experience on the river is one veteran and one mentor/fly fisherman,” Brown said. “For security and safety reasons, or mental issues, we’re right with them, one-on-one.”