Healing waters: Reel Recovery makes connection

I used to think the word "adventure" meant something grand, something along the line of Indiana Jones, mountain climbers, storm chasers. Something daring that proved bravery, courage and strength.

And I was pretty sure I was on my own mini-adventure as I was driving on an endless dirt path in 90-degree heat trying to find the secluded location where the annual fly fishing retreat, Reel Recovery, was being held.

Once I got there, however, I discovered that there's a lot more to an adventure than simply putting yourself in dangerous situations and finding a way out of them.

"Adventure" means something life-changing, an event that tests one's body, mind and spirit. And deep in the brush and streams of Alpine County, the people who truly know the meaning of adventure are the cancer survivors who participate in Reel Recovery.

Reel Recovery is a fly-fishing retreat for men dealing with and recovering from cancer. The mission of the three-day event is to give these men a place to feel safe and peaceful, and to help them find a connection with other men dealing with cancer. The program was founded by Stewart Brown, who passed away from brain cancer, and his friends, Jim Cloud and Coy Theobalt.

Stan Golub, executive director, is also part of the founding group, after having worked with Casting for Recovery, the women's fishing retreat.

"The idea worked so well with Casting for Recovery for women, so I thought it might work as well for the guys," Golub said.

Reel Recovery is in its third active year, and the participation increases every year. Expert fly-fishermen are on-site to teach men how to fly-fish, and to help those who haven't done it in a while. Jim Crouse, owner of Pleasant Valley Fly-Fishing Reserve, donated the reserve to Reel Recovery for the event. Golub said he hopes they will be able to have more retreats a year, in many different states.

This year there were 12 participants, mostly from Northern Nevada and California, as well as past participants who come back to visit and say hello.

"This is a pretty extraordinary group of guys," said Bob Macias, club member of the High Sierra Fly Casters and owner of Bent Rod Flyfishing. "They're having a lot of fun."

The men are all in different stages of recovery and some of them had never fished before.

"I'm an absolute raw novice at this," laughed Ron Church from Carson City.

South Lake Tahoe resident Rex Pershnick, a cancer survivor and previous participant, came back this year.

"I came back this year as a buddy," Pershnick said, smiling widely.

The men spent the better part of the morning learning how to fly fish and attempting to catch some trout.

"It's not 'Brokeback Mountain' here, we are seriously fishing," joked participant David Seidler.

Mike Martinkus, from Carson City, came for the second year in a row, but this time he was not there as a fisherman.

"I was looking forward to seeing guys from last year," he said. "The first one I participated in, I was still in chemo. The program is really great. It's a big deal, you know. It's a big deal to be alive."

Phil Pindel, a lukemia patient from Gardnerville, agrees.

"It's really great for guys who have never fished before," he said, although he himself has been fishing for about two years.

Jerry Crum, who worked hard to get the program on its feet, also has a special connection with the event.

Crum was diagnosed with cancer in 1997 and was introduced to fly fishing a year later. He soon became fond of the sport.

"I realized it was doing something for me," said Crum. "It was bringing me peace. Cancer doesn't give you peace."

Crum then met Golub at Casting for Recovery and soon became active in the development of the men's program.

"This year is the most fun for me," said Crum. "The program is starting to mature and it's a chance to meet new people."

Crum and Golub both mentioned the overwhelming support from the community. Local groups and organizations are beginning to donate and people are trying hard to get the word out there.

A special tradition that continues each year are the fishing vests. Each man gets his own fishing vest, and signs his name and the date. The men wear their vest throughout the retreat and when the retreat is over, they pass it on to the next year's participants.

"The vests are part of the legacy of the program. It's a thread that runs throughout the program, and those who have done the program have a connection," said Golub.

Although the day was warm and the men were tired, they laughed about the abundance of sandwich meat to the lack of fish caught to their numerous tangled lines. In the end, Reel Recovery does a lot more than teaching men how to flyfish, said Macias.

"It's not about catching fish. It's about camaraderie. It's a place to reflect. It gives them hope."

For more information, go to www.reelrecovery.org.


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