Volunteers use a golf cart to shuffle veterans from a parking lot to a pond in Galloway. It’s a crisp fall day, and the calm water is full of fish.
Crickets chirp distantly and fishers slush through the grass to find private spots to fish. A few Columbus Crew SC players are even on hand to mingle with veterans.
A volunteer helps a veteran learn how to use the rod.
“You wanna just take it real slow... Jerk it, then let it sit. Jerk it, then let it sit,” the volunteer urges. “Keep on going. Jerk it, then let it sit. Just like that. That’s the way.”
More than 800,000 veterans live in Ohio, and about 15 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One Central Ohio nonprofit helps vets learn new skill and escape to the peace and quiet using a unique approach: fly fishing.
Project Healing Waters was founded nationwide in 2005, and started up in Central Ohio six years later. The organization has given hundreds of local vets quietude and a means to cope with life post-war.
"Out Here In The Quiet"
Jason Gibson catches a fish, then releases it back into the pond.
“Something about it is just more relaxing,” Gibson says. “You’re more engaged with fishing. I don’t know, that’s just something I liked about it.”
It’s his first time fly-fishing with Project Healing Waters. After eight years in the army as a combat engineer, Gibson lost his legs to a bomb in Iraq.
“As engineers, our job is to do rock clearance and find [improvised explosive devices] and allow the rest of the troops to move unhindered, I guess,” Gibson says. “And long story short, I found it the easy way. I just knelt down right on top of one and lost both my legs.”
Now, he’s back in Ohio. After a couple years of rehabilitation, he learned about Project Healing Waters through the coach of his sled hockey team.
“Just to get out and relax really. To cast, I haven’t cast in a while,” Gibson says. “Just being out here in the quiet is nice.”
It’s a sentiment shared by other vets who come to Project Healing Waters. Volunteer John Davis helps coordinate events because he wants to help bring tranquility to veterans.
“We’re dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active service military personnel and disabled veterans,” Davis says. “We provide our expertise, our experience in helping these veterans to enjoy this affliction we call fly fishing.”
“If I Can Ever Catch Me A Fish, Then I’ll Be Alright”
There are 26 vets who are consistently active in the program. They learn how to tie fishing knots, care for rods, read waters and target fish.
Veteran Joseph Boyd served with the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam War. He hasn’t been out of the house in a while.
“I got breathing problems, heart problems, I’m diabetic,” Boyd says. “So I usually don’t do a lot of activities.”
He doesn’t know how to fly fish, but he’s excited to learn.
“Just to get away and learn something new,” Boyd says. “If I can ever catch me a fish, then I’ll be alright.”
Project Healing Waters takes veterans out fly-fishing once a month when the weather cooperates. They spend the winter hosting indoor classroom lessons at National Church Residences in Columbus. The programs are free for veterans because of corporate sponsorship and private donations.
Davis says with time, veterans become more at ease.
“Sometimes these folks have difficulty sitting for more than five or 10 minutes, and over time that can increase to an hour where they’re able to sit there and do that,” Davis says.
There are five Project Healing Waters programs in Ohio. The next Central Ohio event will be scheduled for November.