Fly-Fishing for Recovery
By Megan Brocco, January 1, 2015
Nearly a decade ago, Dean Childs connected with the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) team in the Pacific Northwest forming a relationship that would spark numerous projects to help disabled veterans. PHWFF is a nonprofit organization focused on rehabilitation of injured active military and disabled vets through fly-fishing. Childs owned a small business in Sequim, WA that crafted handmade fly-tying tools. After spending time volunteering with PHWFF, he found a way his skills could support their efforts. He recruited friends from the Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Club and Greywolf Fly Fishing Club to help him make quality tools free of charge for the PHWFF fly-tying programs.
Over five years, a team of 20 motivated local volunteers produced 8,000 tools in Child’s shop that were packaged and sent to over 1,000 veterans as tool sets. The donated sets reached 190 PHWFF programs at VA facilities, military bases, and hospitals and also went to dozens of anglers with stroke and hand/arm injuries. In addition, fly club members pitched in to build a 16-foot cedar strip boat for PHWFF fly-fishing outings at Fort Lewis and designed special flies reflecting each military campaign ribbon for fundraising at fly-fishing shows. Again, everything was donated free of charge.
In 2012, Jesse Scott, a retired Air Force Colonel from Arlington, WA, approached Childs for help with a related project. After volunteering at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Scott realized his fly-tying hobby could be therapeutic and useful in rehabilitation. Fly-tying involves manipulating various materials onto a hook using fine motor skills in one’s fingers. Jesse asked patients to tie flies to regain mobility and dexterity through an activity that reinforced traditional methods of physical therapy. After meeting individuals who had lost a limb or the function of a hand, Jesse spent three years developing the “Evergreen Hand,” a one-handed fly-tying device that ENABLES an individual with a missing or disabled hand to tie fishing flies. Scott partnered with Childs and utilized his tool-making expertise to help him refine his design, reducing production time and the cost of materials. Again, members from local fly clubs formed volunteer work-parties and built 350 devices that were shipped to programs and individuals across the US and Canada for free.
Although time is freely donated, the $25 to purchase materials and distribute each Evergreen Hand is not. Seeing the value of their work, the Fly Tying Group of the International Federation of Fly Fishing (IFFF) donated $4,000 of seed money to get the project started. The project picked up speed and those involved formed Olympic Peninsula Fishing Innovations (OPFI) in 2013. OPFI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that relies on grants and charitable contributions to make products capable of healing the mind, body and spirit. When asked why they started OPFI, most cited personal relationships with a friend or family member who struggled with PTSD, stroke, or other injury. They know the impact these injuries have on an individual. Many active duty and disabled veterans returning from war rarely share their traumatic experiences. This makes it challenging for others to empathize and understand their difficulties adjusting to civilian life.
In 2013, Coop Cooper urged OPFI to design and build a device for one-handed fly-fishing. Like fly-tying, fly-fishing is a two-handed sport with one hand on the rod and the other on the line and reel. Individuals from local fishing clubs collaborated with the OPFI team to design the first prototypes. Together they built eighty Casting Partners that are now being tested by anglers around the country. The Casting Partner now allows one to tie knots, fight a fish, and land a fish single handedly. This allows a one-handed angler to fish completely independent of help from others. ADD now production model
Currently the IFFF and PHWFF help distribute the Evergreen Hand. Availability of the Casting Partner is dependent on the availability of funds to move forward with production. There is a need and the OPFI team is working hard to secure funding that will allow them to increase production and meet the demand. Their goal is to ship 500 Evergreen Hands and 1,000 Casting Partners every year for free. OPFI also envisions expanding beyond PHWFF programs to help anyone who could benefit from their products. Every day individuals around the country start occupational therapy after a stroke, car accident, or work-related injury affects their ability to function. Those individuals want to hear want they can do instead of what they can’t. Order & deliver
Replacing a disability with an ability can dramatically improve the outlook of someone battling PTSD or depression. When one is not defined by their disability, limitations are removed and it becomes easier to find ways to move forward. Oftentimes, finding an activity one can do well opens the door to trying new things and discovering new capabilities. OPFI hopes their adaptive products can bring opportunity, peace of mind, and a little fun to those facing a challenging recovery. It is amazing what a few people are capable of achieving when united by the belief they can help others. For OPFI, it’s not about making money; it’s about making a difference. Refer first name not last name.