When Heroes on the Water started in 2007, it was because a group of enthusiastic, like-minded people decided to do something amazing with their favorite hobby – kayak fishing. There were no focus groups, or high-end consultants. Just a team of people coming together with one man who felt compelled to lead the way – Heroes on the Water founder, Jim Dolan.
Jim didn’t start out with the idea that he would build a national non-profit serving veterans, first responders and their families. He just liked to fish.
“Back in 2005 or 2006, I decided to learn to kayak fish, I did it because I saw these people on the coast catching big redfish in skinny water. I’m a born and bred Texas bass fisherman and wanted to catch fish like that at the coast.”
Jim found Dean Thomas, who runs Slowride Guide Services and set up his first kayak fishing experience, which consisted of a class to learn to use the kayak.
“Dean told us to check the stability of the kayak, so I rocked back and forth and flipped, or turtled, upside down in kayak. I was able to get all my stuff got back in after the ‘yard sale,’ you know where all you stuff goes everywhere. I then immediately flipped again. My brother-in-law was in same class. He just paddled right on by.”
Dean and another big name in kayak fishing at the time, Scott Null, were teaching the class.
“Being typical men, we began giving each other a hard time. They tagged me Double Dip and that became my nickname.”
Jim is a larger man, standing at 6’ 5” tall, so flipping a narrow kayak was not all that difficult. He’s only flipped one other time since that day, and while he realizes flipping a kayak can be annoying, he knows the sport overall is quite safe.
“It’s a pain in the rear but even in deep water you can hang on to your kayak. You can often get back in by yourself. Heroes on the Water chapters that fish in deeper water hold boat re-entry drills. It’s possible for just about anyone to do. Plus, at HOW we focus on safety.”
The chapters are focused on ensuring that the kayak fishing experiences are very safe. In addition, there are adaptive equipment choices to support those with physical injuries.
“We had a guy flip at a DFW outing. He floundered a bit, so we told him to stand up. The water was only up to his thighs. Flipping a kayak is not typically dangerous.”
From Fishing to Foundation
Jim found kayak fishing to be an inexpensive and easy way to go fishing. There is minimal infrastructure needed to get on the water. Many rivers, lakes and oceans run in “skinny water,” water that is shallow, so kayaks being adaptable are perfect for those environments. Plus, the kayaks are easily maneuvered even by those with physical injuries.
“I remember we were at an outing and one of the guys was a triple amputee. He flipped over and was able to yank himself back in the boat on his own. How often can a person with one arm paddle out and catch a fish?”
Kayak fishing was not as popular as it is today, and the group of people that Jim met were passionate about doing something positive with the sport.
“At first, we were thinking of working with kids and schools. However, all three of us are veterans, so we decided to reach out to Brooke Army Medical Center and see if we could take the folks out. Major Cody Roberson helped us work with the Center for the Intrepid.”
Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) Center for the Intrepid states their threefold mission is to provide rehabilitation for OIF/OEF casualties who have sustained amputation, burns, or functional limb loss, to provide education to DoD and Department of Veteran’s Affairs professionals on cutting edge rehabilitation modalities, and to promote research in the fields of Orthopedics, prosthetics and physical/occupational rehabilitation.
“BAMC is an awesome facility that provides medical care to poly trauma veterans. We started taking guys out kayak fishing to support their rehabilitation. Within about 6 months we started to realize that the kayak fishing was effective for both physical and mental rehabilitation.”
Jim and a group of friends started Heroes on the Water with the idea that something simple could be powerful, growing to serve thousands across the United States. Read more in the next installment of Jim’s story.
As Jim puts it “I get to take my hobby and save lives.” Heroes on the Water provides a wellness therapy that has supported thousands of veterans, first responders and their families. Our organization gives each man, woman and child a safe place to relax and reconnect. Please consider donating to Heroes on the Water – Operation Double Dip will allow us to expand and serve those who have given so much. When you think about giving, think about double dipping. If you are thinking $10, then double dip to $20. Make $50 double dip to $100. Help us reach our goal to serve as many veterans and first responders as we can!
*Photos by Joe Winston Photography