American hunters and anglers may not be aware of the many programs that various sporting organizations have to introduce the outdoors to veterans, youth, those with health issues, and physically-challenged individuals. Here are a few examples.
National Wild Turkey Federation's Wheelin' Sportsmen Program Founded in 2000, the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) Wheelin’ Sportsmen Program hosts hunting, fishing and shooting events across North America that aim to provide those with disabilities the opportunity to gain a sense of independence in the outdoors. Both the local chapter and national program events often provide the knowledge and experience that allow participants to continue hunting on their own. Their website even features downloadable instructions to build an inexpensive wheelchair accessible ground blind.
Robin Clark, volunteer for Virginia's Wheelin' Sportsmen.
At the age of 16, Virginia Wheelin’ Sportsmen Volunteer Coordinator Robin Clark was injured in a diving accident. “I remember well the frustrations I experienced in trying to shoot again, and vowed to not let any other newly disabled sportsmen go through my ordeal,” said Clark. “My reward, in addition to hunting and fishing with some great friends, is the many genuine, heartfelt thanks I receive from both the participants and their families. The joy of watching a young 11-year-old hunter proudly holding his first buck, or a 70-year-old former hunter harvest a turkey again after having not hunted in several years due to medical issues, and knowing that these scenes may not have happened without my help is more than enough reward for me to continue my volunteer efforts.”
Hunt of a Lifetime Foundation The Hunt of a Lifetime Foundation (HOAL) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to granting hunting and fishing dreams to children age 21 and under who have been diagnosed with life threatening illnesses. HOAL was founded by Tina Pattison after her son was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and the Make a Wish Foundation decided to stop funding hunting trips. “Anti-hunters just don’t understand the joy that organizations like ours bring to young people suffering life threatening illnesses. These kids not only have a wonderful outdoor experience, but they also often get the joy of eating wild game, some of the healthiest food there is,” said Pattison. Hunt of a Lifetime now gives families facing similar tragedies as Pattison once faced the opportunity to make their child’s dream a reality.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing(PHWFF) is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled military service members through fly fishing education and outings. When Josh Williams of Botetourt County, Va., came home from the Iraq War in 2005, he says he was emotionally adrift and abusing alcohol. Life became even more disjointed when he lost an arm in an accident, causing him to end up at Walter Reed Hospital in April 2006—which is where he met Ed Nicholson who founded PHWFF the year before.
“Project Healing Waters helped me so much with my depression and the loss of my arm that I felt like I had to do something to repay them,” recalls Williams. “That’s why I became a volunteer for the organization. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people just like me recover by teaching fly fishing and tying classes. The organization really set me up for life, as I’m now a fly fishing guide myself.”
Casting for Recovery Founded in 1996, Casting for Recovery(CFR) is another organization that uses fly fishing as a recovery tool—in this case, for breast cancer survivors of all ages, in all stages of treatment or recovery. As stated on their website, CFR’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for women with breast cancer through a unique program that combines breast cancer education and peer support with fly fishing. My wife Elaine, a breast cancer survivor, went on a CFR retreat a few years ago and was introduced to fishing with a fly rod—something she had been previously reluctant to try—and found the experience enlightening and emotionally rewarding.
Executive Director Whitney Milhoan says it is inspiring to work for the organization. “I am most proud of the fact that even though we've grown to become such a large organization, Casting for Recovery is still very much a grassroots, volunteer run, non-profit. We have teams of dedicated volunteers all over the country working tirelessly to support their local CFR retreats. It's truly inspiring.”
Milhoan adds that she feels CFR provides the right space for healing to occur organically as a support group for survivors outside the typical clinical setting. “On a physical level, fly fishing is a non-demanding activity, so it's a way for nearly anyone to have an authentic outdoor experience. The physical motion of casting a fly rod is good exercise to encourage mobility for women who have been through radiation or surgery as part of their treatment for breast cancer.”
Outdoor Recreation Heritage Fund Outdoor Recreation Heritage Fund (ORHF) was founded in 2012 by the Paralyzed Veterans of America with a mission to support veterans, troops and their families through various outdoor activities including hunting and fishing.
“I guess the one thing that we are most proud of is that since the beginning we have not had to deviate from our main mission, which is to either get our heroes back into the outdoors or give them the opportunity to become introduced to the joys that outdoor recreation has to offer,” said executive director Bob Critcher.
Two success stories in particular that Critcher noted as being most memorable to him include a Marine shooting his first deer after losing his sight during combat operations in Afghanistan, and a quadriplegic shooting his first deer through a sip-and-puff system. “Those and many other success stories are priceless experiences for both the participants and volunteers,” Critcher adds.