Jim Dolan calls himself a born and raised redneck bass fisherman. He started a nonprofit in north Texas called Heroes on the Water as a way to give back to the military men and women that have given so much to our country. Heroes on the Water serves the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard.
“We take them out kayak fishing, which has turned out to be incredibly therapeutic,” said President of Heroes on the Water Jim Dolan. “We had no idea what we were doing and how therapeutic it would be for the guys that are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. About our fourth outing we found out that what we were doing was more than just taking guys fishing. We saw some changes in people that were pretty amazing.”
“It means a lot just because it shows that people care about us,” said U.S. Army Specialist Juan Carlos Hernandez.
By Nicolette Schleisman
When you think of fishing and kayaking, you probably do not think of therapy. But there is a group of veterans who call it triple therapy, which covers physical, occupational, and mental therapy, all by kayaking.
Stefani McCowan is an Iraq veteran. She came back from Iraq with more than just battle wounds.
She started going to Heroes on the Water four weeks ago. In just a month’s time, she has noticed a drastic change.
“It really helped me with my self esteem and feeling great about who I am,” said McCowan.
Heroes on the Water takes veterans out onto the water in kayaks and with fishing poles to relax.
It gives them the chance to decompress from the stresses of combat and rehabilitation.
“This starts to get them back in the community and get around vets and realize that they’re not alone and that they’re out there and there’s other guys and gals out there dealing with the same stuff that they are,” said Lyle Babcock, Kansas coordinator for Heroes on the Water.
It was May 2012 when I was trolling around in an online kayak fishing forum and I came across a posting asking for volunteers to take wounded warriors out kayak fishing. They were looking for guides and gear as this was to be their first event ever. Now I have never “guided” before, but I have been fishing for nearly 40 years and I’ve shown plenty of people how to fish. I also have an appreciation for on-the-water safety and knowledge about how to handle various situations that may arise out there. So I responded with my offer to help out.
I had no idea what to expect. I’m an extremely competitive person. I fish tournaments. I play hockey. I play poker, and I’m focused in my day job at moving up the corporate ladder. So it was no surprise that I then started trash talking in the kayak fishing forum about how my vet was going to catch the most, and the biggest, fish. To me, it was game on. My vet was going to win.
As the day got closer, I meticulously planned out our day. The group was going to launch into Raritan Bay from Port Monmouth. This is a fantastic fishery which I am very familiar with. I know a channel that runs from shore to about 3 miles out. The channel started about 3/4 of a mile east of the launch. The plan would be to follow the channel out, looking for the fish and then work our way back. It would be as much as a 7 and a half mile paddle in search of fluke.
This year has been a remarkable year of growth for Heroes On The Water and specifically the Coastal Bend HOW Chapter. We continued to spread the word about who we are, and what we do for veterans and active duty military, and our numbers steadily increased. Because of the financial support provided by Casting For A Cause 2013, we were able to equip our chapter with kayaks, gear, and a trailer. We committed to at least one outing a month in 2014 (which we are meeting) and our number of participants continue to grow. Our volunteer base has grown as well. We have been able to have a shore crew at a few outings that prepare lunch while we are on the water, and
recently we have added a Safety boat as well to keep an eye out while we paddle.
For this year’s tournament, we had HOW Chapter representation from all over Texas, as well as Louisiana and Virginia. We met on Thursday before the tournament for a big group paddle…the wind did not cooperate, nor did the fish, but our mission isn’t always about filling the stringers with fish. Sometimes just being on the water is enough. The camaraderie, the conversation, the healing, it happens without trying if you provide the right setting. Kayak fishing is that kind of setting. It provides a calm one on one with nature, allows the warrior to disengage from daily stresses, and puts them in a comfort zone with their brothers and sisters.
Heroes on the Water (HOW) exists to help warriors and veterans unwind and reconnect on their journey home. Volunteers across the country have stepped forward to serve our nation’s Heroes and their families by providing the HOW kayak fishing program in their local area.
Over the past 6 ½ years, the HOW program has expanded into 25 states within the United States, as well as in Australia and the United Kingdom. Since the beginning of 2014, HOW has received numerous inquiries from individuals and groups interested in bringing the program to the warriors in their community. Growth is expected to accelerate.
As new chapters form, they seek funding and kayak fishing gear to get the program running. Chapter leaders that have been through the start-up mode and are now fully functioning understand the challenges.
“We now have chapters helping chapters get started” says founder, Jim Dolan. “At our recent 2014 HOW Training Conference, Chris Thomas, chapter coordinator of the HOW – Indiana Chapter, presented $1,000 to Adam Dresden, chapter coordinator for the new HOW – Heartland Chapter in Nebraska. How awesome is that.” Adam and the leaders were surprised and grateful for the support which expedites their ability to help wounded warriors de-stress through kayak fishing.