At the end of last week, I had the pure honor and privilege of volunteering for the Reel Recovery retreat in Onalaska, WI. Greg introduced me to the opportunity, otherwise, I would have never heard of the organization.
The organization’s web site can do a better job than I can of describing their vision and goals, but to paraphrase, they’re about supporting men with cancer (at least in part) through fly-fishing.
Despite the occasion for frustration as you deal with tangled line or a lost fish, I’ve found fly fishing to be one of the most relaxing activities imaginable. Maybe “relaxing” isn’t quite the right word… Perhaps “focused” is better. When I fly fish, I become so focused on that task and in that moment, that I forget all else around me. I imagine it’s something like a really deep meditative state.
When I’ve had challenges in my life, I’ve found that fly fishing has been a way to escape from it all, even if just for a bit. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I volunteered to be a “buddy,” but I was hoping that maybe I could offer this escape for one of the men.
I started this post about 10 times and couldn’t find the right way to articulate what the event meant to me. I’ll give more of a “cast-by-cast” account later, but here are a few high-level thoughts.
At one point, one of the “Buddies” (volunteers) voiced his frustration about all the attention given to supporting cancer initiatives focused on women, when men need just as much support. “I wonder how people would feel if I showed up with shirt with pair of balls on it?” he joked.
That’s one cool thing about the event. It’s a chance for men, who are more apt to internalize their struggles, to really share with other men. As much as the organization has to do with fishing, it’s main goal is really to give men an outlet to deal with the emotional battles of dealing with cancer.
Throughout the 2 days, I met some great men. Each man was different in how he dealt with the disease, what he cared to share with me, and what he wanted to get out of the time there. But each man was courageous and appreciative of the event.
I’m not always the most elegant at dealing with sensitive topics – especially with strangers. But Reel Recovery seemed like the perfect opportunity to try and give something of myself to help these guys who are dealing with some pretty tough stuff.
As I tried to impart my knowledge of fly fishing (not always doing the best job, I might add) I saw on the faces of these men the same things I felt while I learned how to fly fish. It was a mix of confusion, frustration, excitement, and joy. What I didn’t see was “guys with cancer learning how to fly fish.” I just saw “guys learning how to fly fish.”
The most powerful part of the retreat was the closing ceremonies. We all shared what we would take away from the retreat. I think everyone took away a very positive experience, whether they caught a bunch of fish, or none. Some took away friendships, some took away hope, and hopefully some took away a couple of fish stories to share with their friends and family.