Rudy and Maria Castaneda knew they wanted to help veterans, so they began their journey to create and develop a Heroes on the Water chapter in the Rio Grande Valley. They held their first event in May, and since that time have taken over 100 warriors and families out on the water. They have become an integral part of the community, speaking to various organizations and colleges. More importantly, they are dedicated to supporting the large community of veterans and active-duty military service folks in the area. Why?
“As a Veteran I go to the VA and I have seen other Veterans who are suffering from combat, so I knew there were a lot of people we could serve,” said Rudy. “I told the wife there are so many people in the area who would love to go kayak fishing, but cannot afford their own kayak, so let’s start a Heroes on the Water chapter.”
After serving his country, Jeremiah came back a changed man. His memories of recovering downed U.S. military aircraft were all too vivid. In one such recovery, two helicopters had collided in flight. His friends, fellow warriors, had been on board. The experiences caused chronic post-traumatic stress—which, paired with a traumatic brain injury—worsened after his return.
Calming the Storm
Jeremiah needed an outlet to calm the storm. Heroes on the Water provided that. He could surround himself with nature’s best and connect with fellow heroes. “When I’m with another veteran, whenever they’ve been there and they’ve felt it, when they’ve walked that mile in my shoes, they can relate,” he said. “Everybody is accepted. And it gives you a sense of peace that you’re not alone.”
Great things started to emerge. He formed friendships, found peace, reconnected with his family and felt empowered again. “[HOW has] kind of been my bridge to getting back into society,” said Jeremiah. During this transition, he found a new passion in leather crafting, and enjoyed it so much that he started providing leather crafting and laser engraving workshops. Like kayaking, it’s low stress and immensely fulfilling. Now, he teaches and inspires other veterans to learn the craft.
Bringing Families Together
Today, HOW has become a way of life for Jeremiah and his family. “My wife loves it when I go fishing, because I come back a little happier, a little more unwound,” said the hero. “It brings families together, so that they can feel the joy that we do out of this program, too.”
To support warriors like Jeremiah, donate today, September 17, for North Texas Giving Day!
“If I can help people and keep them from doing something they regret, I’m happy to do so.” ~ Josh Droddy
Most of us crave more free time to just chill, enjoy our family, even simply sit and watch the sun set. But for a veteran, free time can be one of the most painful things about returning home. For many, this seems counter to what we might think. After all, didn’t they just spend almost every day under extreme circumstances? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a break from all that action? Not really.
“I drove over 160,000 miles doing patrols in Iraq. We were hit multiple times by at least 13 or 14 IEDs. I honestly do not remember them all – only the bad ones.”
Josh returned home thinking he was doing great. The truth was he simply was trying to medicate to ease the pain.
“I was hooked on meth, staying up for four or five days at a time. I had chosen to move out of state rather than returning to my home in Louisiana, and just simply was not doing anything to help myself.”
In spite of this methamphetamine habit, Josh continued to function. He received a service dog, Rock, who took care of him for 6 years before receiving his current service dog, Grunt, a beautiful German Shepherd. Through the selfless care he received from both Rock and Grunt, Josh realized how great the need was for veterans. Wanting to give back, he became qualified as a service dog trainer. Yet it was not enough. Josh was on a destructive path that would eventually lead to his early demise. Something had to change.
The Gift of Going Home
Josh knew if he was going to survive civilian life, something had to change. He decided to return to his native state of Louisiana and return to the familiarity of the outdoors. Growing up hunting and fishing, Josh found solace in outdoor activities.
“I would go on these guided fishing trips, and while they were nice, it did not fulfill my desire to be closer to nature. I would be one of about five guys on a boat, all trying to catch the biggest fish.”
Josh turned to the internet to find other outdoor activities, mainly because he liked being outdoors, but also to keep as busy as possible.
“I was looking for more to do, and for something that made me feel connected. That’s when I found Joe Winston, chapter coordinator for HOW Southeast Texas. He took me on my first kayak fishing trip, and even though I could only kayak for 5 to 10 minutes because of the pain, I was hooked.”
Josh became enamored with kayak fishing, mainly because of the peace and tranquility he felt.
“I was so blessed to go on all these guided hunting and fishing trips, but none of them compared to kayak fishing. Now the tug is my drug. It’s having a level of control and ability to interact closely with nature that makes it so amazing.
Josh knew others who needed this healing opportunity.
The Southeast Texas chapter was the closest Heroes on the Water chapter to Josh’s area, and after several more trips with Joe, Josh wanted to do more. And that’s when he got the idea.
The Gift of Kayak Fishing
Josh decided he had to start his own Heroes on the Water chapter.
It’s the most awesome, gratifying experience. I’ve been on cloud nine the entire time!”
The chapter held its first event on July 1st and has held three events in total, all well attended.
“We had to borrow kayaks at first, but will soon have our own. The community really pitched in, with local kayak club members offering their kayaks, and donations of hardware, gear and tackle coming in. Our community has been amazing!”
Josh knows that the ability to share this experience with other veterans is powerful and life changing. He recognizes that while he does not know everything about kayak fishing, he does know how to tie a good knot, and how to give advice to others who have fought for our freedom, and struggled when they returned home. Josh hopes that by starting this chapter, he will inspire others and give hope.
“It was such an honor for me to serve our veterans. There were several Vietnam vets at our Ride the Bull event, and we got to welcome these guys home and wait on them hand and foot. What showed in their eyes cannot be said in words. They’ve never had that done for them before.”
Josh knows it’s the relaxation they get when kayak fishing that is considerably different than any other type of fishing. In the kayak, you are part of the water and everything happens around you.
“In southwest Louisiana, being outdoors is always an adventure. Yet with kayak fishing, there is a confidence you get from making everything work on your own. And you still have the camaraderie of your fellow fishermen and women. Frankly, you’ve not had any fun until you’ve been pulled around in a kayak, had the line break, and left to wonder what it was.”
Josh knows that HOW can serve warriors, as he has experienced the power himself. So when it comes to the Southwest Louisiana chapter, he has but one wish – to get more people involved. Here’s why…
The Gift of Positive Activity
“I once was in a VA rehab for over 30 days. In fact, I visited rehab facilities several times. The main reason was there was nothing to fill my free time, so I found ways to do so, many destructive. That is why it is so important to me to be there for our warriors and help them find constructive, supportive ways to fill their time.”
Josh knows how difficult free time can be for someone who is returning home and has too much time on his hands. He believes if he had some type of plan, something to look forward to, perhaps he would have chosen a different path in the beginning.
He believes the same of his best friend, Johnny, with whom he was deployed.
“Johnny was in a bad motorcycle accident and broke multiple bones. He is lucky to be alive. I think if he had something to look forward to, something scheduled where he knew he would be accepted, and enjoy the experience, then perhaps he might have made a different choice. I want to take away any of the maybe’s and replace them with a positive.”
Josh has been down the rough road and back again.
“I’ve been on the losing end, even trying to commit suicide. Sometimes all you need is something to do.”
“If I can help people and keep them from doing something they might regret, I’m happy to do so. I want to give hope and to inspire others to help.”
With your help, Heroes on the Water helps warriors relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors. Together we can give our veterans and their families something positive to do, a way to reconnect with those who understand, and a moment of peace and tranquility that may just make the difference between living and dying. Help us support more warriors by donating – https://www.northtexasgivingday.org/#npo/heroes-on-the-water.
“Basically I’m a fishing addict and knew the good and bad of fishing tournaments. So I chose to put that knowledge to work to create an event that gives back.” Steven Schmidt – Tournament Director, NuStar Casting for a Cause
Eight years ago, Steven Schmidt saw a need in the community. As someone who had been fishing since childhood, he had a passion for the sport, and recognized that there were many others in the area who felt the same way. He also recognized that it was time to create something bigger – an event that would help raise dollars for different organizations and really make a difference for the community overall. That is how Casting for a Cause was born.
“We had about 50 to 60 people and sponsors that first year, raising approximately $14,000,” said Steven. “In 2015 we had just over 200 kayak participants, over 600 boat participants, multiple sponsors and raised over $200,000.”
“I never envisioned it growing to this point.”
Casting for a Cause supports three primary charities – National Muscular Dystrophy Association, Heroes on the Water and Haven for Hope, a homeless rehab center in San Antonio founded by NuStar’s Chairman of the Board. In addition the charity supports approximately 30 other organizations.