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Wounded Veterans Find Peace Through Serenity of Fly Fishing

Many who have suffered the wounds of war have found peace and comfort in the outdoors with the help of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.

About a dozen years ago Navy veteran Ed Nicholson was in Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, for cancer treatment when he saw the young people around him severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From then on, Nicholson had an idea.

“I am going to go out and fish. I bet some of these guys would like to join me,” he said.

That was the beginning of "Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing," an organization that teaches the sport to wounded veterans. Now with more than 200 chapters, Healing Waters has built of community of support for wounded warriors.

Retired Staff Sergeant Robert Bartlett lost half of his face and one eye to an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Iraq. He finds a special serenity in fly fishing.

“You just get a chance to reset and just not think about the future, not think about the past, but just fish for a bit.”

David Folkerts, now the chief operating officer for Healing Waters, first discovered the program while recovering from an IED blast himself

“It got me away from thinking about all the negative things and all the things I couldn’t do quite as well. It lifted that dark cloud and helped me move forward.”

“This is my recreational therapy,” said Captain Alvin Shell. “It gives me calm, it relaxes me.”

Bartlett, like many of the vets in Healing Waters, has found joy in catching and in the camaraderie.

"I don’t know how many friends I’ve got that had 45s (handguns) in their mouths. Getting them into one of these programs saved their lives," he said. "I can share with another vet, they don’t judge me, they’ve been there themselves and we move on."