We caught up with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PWHFF) to better understand how they use fly fishing and related activities to help thousands of U.S. military veterans and active personnel. PHWFF relies on 4,000+ volunteers and tax deductible donations to carry out their commendable and important work. If you’re looking for a non-profit to support this Veterans Day, read on for more on PHWFF and find out how you can help or get involved.

Flylords: Can you give us a brief overview of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing?

PHWFF:Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.

We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization incorporated in the State of Maryland. PHWFF is dependent on tax-deductible, charitable donations and the help of numerous volunteers to meet the educational, equipment, transportation, and related needs of its participants.

Flylords: How did PHWFF start?

PHWFF: PHWFF was founded by retired U.S. Navy Captain Ed Nicholson. During his own stay in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in 2005, he was presented with a close look at the wounded returning from the conflict in Iraq (and later Afghanistan). This was the genesis for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF). His desire to offer fly fishing to recovering injured and wounded service members wanting to join him on outings soon (with the help of a great many others) blossomed into PHWFF that now encompasses not only the recovering warriors of Walter Reed, but other disabled veterans in-need, at over 200 locations nationwide.

Flylords: Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is centered around helping those who sacrifice everything for our country. What are some of the ways Project Healing Waters finds success in helping disabled veterans?

PHWFF: Our programs provide basic fly fishing, fly casting, fly tying and rod building classes, along with clinics for participants 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.

Among the countless testimonials that we have received over the years, the most frequent six words that we hear are: “Project Healing Waters saved my life.” PHWFF programs offer long-term solutions – not a temporary fix.

“This Journey has been a transformative one for me, especially dealing with my PTSD as a disabled veteran… the victories in each catch are my own forms of therapy… It is a respite from my typical solitary existence and a welcome diversion that offers not just a physical activity, but an engaging and rewarding mental exercise.”

– Mikael madsen, u.s. army veteran

Flylords: Do you have any inspiring success stories that come to mind that you wouldn’t mind sharing?

PHWFF: Of our 4,000+ volunteers, approximately 20% of them are former participants in our program. Each individual’s healing journey is different, and PHWFF is there each step of the way.  These individuals felt a strong desire to give back and share something that their fellow veterans may benefit from. It is truly powerful and inspiring.

We are blessed to have so many inspiring success stories that it is difficult to narrow them down, but here are a few: Elvind Forseth, Ed Veaudry, Nico Gill, Josh Williams, Ann Marie O’Malley.

Flylords: Cold you describe the value and benefit of outdoor recreation for veterans with disabilities?

PHWFF: At the root of our cause is the belief that the sport of fly fishing holds many therapeutic benefits — encompassing the physical, mental, and emotional.  Fly fishing usually happens in beautiful places — places where nature can soothe and nurture, and most importantly instill hope.  As John Buchan once remarked, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”  In addition to the natural methods of relaxation and restoration offered by fly-fishing, the sport also requires dexterity, keen eye-hand coordination, and intense concentration—challenging for even able-bodied anglers, much less those adjusting and adapting to their new abilities.  But through these challenges come opportunities to learn, adapt, and evolve through this fun, challenging sport — offering a rehabilitative outlet outside the traditional physical therapy room.  Fly fishing restores hope and offers many the chance to both physically and emotionally rehabilitate and recover.

Through our program and application of the sport of fly fishing, PHWFF has become recognized as an innovative leader and model in the field of therapeutic outdoor recreation for the disabled, through its successful application of the sport of fly fishing as a rehabilitation tool.

Flylords: Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing has programs in every state, right? Just how big has PHWFF become?

PHWFF: Since our founding in 2005 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, PHWFF has expanded nationwide establishing over 200 highly successful programs in Department of Defense hospitals, Warrior Transition Units, and Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and clinics.

Flylords: PHWFF’s sponsors represent a large and diverse collection of companies that believe in your vision. How important are your corporate sponsors?

PHWFF: Our corporate sponsors have helped our organization further its mission and dedication to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service members and disabled veterans through fly fishing, education and associated activities. Our corporate sponsors have not only provided financial support for our national programs, but as a result of our engagement, we gain exposure to new audiences which creates opportunity for a new base of potential donors and volunteers. Our corporate sponsors are vital to creating sustainable programs that meet the needs of our veteran program participants. Our partnerships with Fly Fishers International, Trout Unlimited, the Department of Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service, Nature Conservancy, and more have been crucial in our efforts to provide our unique brand of healing at no cost to our Nation’s disabled veterans. Their support is helping save lives.

Flylords: Similarly, how important are your volunteers?

PHWFF: Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is the product of volunteers who have embraced our cause and ensured its success over the past 14 years.  It is the volunteers who have contributed their time, hard work and talents to the PHWFF Programs across the country. Their work and dedication has positively impacted the lives of tens of thousands of disabled military service personnel and disabled veterans across our Nation.

Flylords: Given how essential both financial donations and volunteer hours are for PHWFF accomplishing its goals, how can people make donations  or volunteer for a local PHWFF program?

Donations can be made at: www.projecthealingwaters.org/donate

To become a volunteer please visit: www.projecthealingwaters.org/volunteer

If you’re a veteran with disability and are interested in joining us, please visit: www.projecthealingwaters.org/disabled-military-veterans

You can find a program near you by visiting www.projecthealingwaters.org/programs

Photos curtesy of PHWFF.

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