Veterans finding new hope through kayaks & fishing poles

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Veterans finding new hope through kayaks & fishing poles

Veterans and first responders participate in the Heroes on the Water kayak fishing event at the Sunrise Motel & Diving Resort in Hoodsport on Friday, November 11, 2016.

HOODSPORT, Wash. — Kayaks and fishing poles are giving new hope to veterans and first responders dealing with the physical and emotional impacts from their service.

Heroes on the Water, a non-profit group created in 2007, helps veterans from all branches of the United States military unwind using the therapeutic qualities of fishing from kayaks.

“It’s nice,” said Ed Saucier. “It’s a stress-relief. It’s a big-time stress relief.”

Saucier spent 18 months overseas during the Vietnam War.

“First year was not too bad. It was rough a little bit, but not so bad. But those last 6 months was quite dramatic to me,” he said. “One night we lost 18 helicopters one night. We didn’t lose anybody that night, though. But they lost 18 helicopters that night.”

Saucier got married, went to work after getting out of the service, and never really dealt with the emotions of what he experienced overseas.

“10 years later we went over to Israel. But it was after we came back from Israel I started having, you know, my computer started going bad. I started having panic attacks and nightmares,” he said. “Things just… certain things would set you off to trigger you to think of what was going on back in your day.”

He heard about the non-profit group Heroes on the Water while undergoing therapy on his legs.

“The first time I went out, I was sold on it,” he said.

The group helps military veterans like him and first responders relax, rehabilitate, and reintegrate into civilian life through kayak fishing and just being outdoors.

“Once you get out of the military, you kinda lose that sense of brotherhood and we bring them back together,” said Tony Isaac, Public Relations Coordinator for the Northwest Chapter of Heroes on the Water. “It’s not just the fishing. It’s the laughing and telling stories of all the veterans after you get out of the water. They’ve got a common bond. It’s separated by decades, but it’s still there. It’s definitely still there.”

Heroes on the Water relies on donations to keep events, like one held Friday at the Sunrise Hotel and Diving Resort in Hoodsport, free for those who’ve served and their families.

Since joining the group 5 years ago, Saucier has noticed a big change in himself through the friendships he’s developed with other veterans.

“Some little things that happen may not be fun things. Those tend to be the things you remember. Sometimes the bad things more so the good things. Well, I remember this stuff. And yeah, I remember the guys who help me out,” he said.

Now he’s starting to open up about those dark days decades ago, he said. He’s finding support from an unlikely source.

“Meeting other guys,” he said. “It’s not about me catching the fish. It’s about all of us catching and having fun. And it’s a good time. It’s a good time.”

The Northwest Chapter of Heroes on the Water holds about 1 to 2 events per month from April through November, Isaac said.

Click here for more information about the group and to make a donation. In the Comment section on the group’s website, you can specify which chapter you’d like your donation to go to, Isaac said.

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