“Water truly is a form of therapy as is the power of presence. Just showing up matters. We don’t always catch fish, but we can catch peace of mind.” – Joe Drowns

From Alaska to Alabama

Joe Drowns, a resident of Lake Guntersville in Scottsboro, Alabama, has turned his personal journey of recovery into a mission of helping others. As the secretary for the North Alabama Heroes on the Water (HOW) Chapter and the Tournament Director of the YakNGrass Kayak Series in Guntersville, Joe has made significant contributions to the kayaking and veteran communities. This year he has also taken on the role of Tournament Director of our Annual Kayak Fishing Tournament, in memory of HOW founder Jim Dolan.

Joe’s background is rooted in a life of service and adventure.

“My father served 27 years in the United States Airforce. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska, but grew up in a small town in Kansas,” Joe shares. His journey to Alabama and involvement in various national tournament trails has provided him with a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of the community he serves.

New challenges

Joe’s introduction to Heroes on the Water came at a pivotal moment in his life.

“I first discovered HOW shortly after purchasing my first kayak as a form of recreational therapy after undergoing several surgeries and a few rounds of chemotherapy,” he recalls. This encounter at a local kayak club’s demo day was the beginning of a deep and ongoing commitment. “Always willing to help out, I offered my assistance and I’ve been actively involved ever since.”

The journey with HOW has been marked by numerous significant moments and milestones. Joe highlights these experiences with great fondness:

“We have had a lot of great moments over the last few years, from working the booths at trade shows to on-the-water journeys and helping host a veterans shopping spree with Academy Sports. The friends, faces, sights, and sounds… The paddling, fishing, and healing.”

One particularly poignant experience for Joe was his battle with cancer in 2011.

“When I was diagnosed, I was actively competing in Jiu-Jitsu and MMA as well as helping coach at the local gym. As the treatment took its toll, I found I couldn’t do the things I used to do or be in the places I used to be anymore. I lost my purpose and my mission. Kayak fishing and HOW have helped me find a new one.” This personal struggle and subsequent recovery have deeply shaped Joe’s commitment to helping others find their own paths to healing through HOW.

Community and Nature

Joe finds immense joy in the camaraderie and atmosphere that HOW fosters.

“Water truly is a form of therapy as is the power of presence. Just showing up matters. We don’t always catch fish, but we can catch peace of mind,” he explains. This sense of community and shared purpose is what Joe values most in his involvement with HOW.

For those interested in getting involved with HOW, Joe has clear and heartfelt advice:

“Active duty, retired military, first responders, family members—I highly encourage you to engage with your local chapters. We paddle, we fish, we heal. We just go.” He emphasizes that no prior experience or equipment is necessary, as the organization provides both and offers great instructors and volunteers to assist newcomers.

Fun Competition

Joe is honored to direct the Jim Dolan Memorial Kayak Fishing Tournament this year.

“Having been a competitor and participant over the several years, I was extremely honored to be asked to direct this fundraising tournament. I hope that my experience and understanding as an angler, director, and chapter member help make this a great event!” His passion and experience ensure that this event will be memorable for all involved. Tournament runs Sep 6-22, 2024, and is open to everyone across the U.S.

Joe’s final piece of advice to those considering participation in the tournament is to focus on the experience rather than the competition:

“While the term ‘tournament’ means competition, don’t let the idea of having to win take away from the fun. The sole idea behind events like this is to help spread the word and reach those who may not have known that HOW is here to help. Each One Reach One.”

Join us for the Jim Dolan Memorial Tournament and help us spread the word!

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