Interview with Jim Dolan of Hero's on the Water E-mail
Wednesday, 21 October 2009 09:07

40Red

Here’s how I learned about Heroes on the Water (HOW)

I first met Jim Dolan, in February of 2008.  I was guiding part-time for Everglades Kayak Fishing and he and his wife Sally were my clients.  We hit it off immediately and had a great day on the water.  Sally got a fish of a lifetime that day, a 38.5” snook!  We fished the rest of the week and became friends.  That’s how the kayak fishing fraternity is often.  During the week Jim told me about a program he and some other ex military kayak fishermen had put together; HOW.  The main focus of their efforts was to help military personnel who had been injured while on duty to experience kayak fishing.  It’s a terrific program and we here at KFM want to help out too.  Here’s an interview I did with the members of HOW.

Where did you get the idea for Heroes on the Water?

Even before the first Heroes on the Water outing – in fact, before the non-profit incorporation filing was completed – we were directing our efforts toward helping disabled veterans.

An early meeting with ArmyBassAnglers.com’s Maj. Cody Roberson led to a second emphasis for KASA: wounded warriors in rehab at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

We all felt very strongly that KASA should have a direct service component, as well as long-term goals of opening-up the sport to more people and advocating for greater access to public waters and protection of our natural resources. BAMC already had a nascent paddling project as part of its rehabilitation program, and it seemed like a no-brainer to arrange first-rate, absolutely free kayak fishing trips for the men and women of all branches of the service who have given so much.

~Jim Dolan

When was the HOW first event?

The first HOW trip was held Oct. 15th, 2007 just outside of Port Aransas on the famed Brown and Root Flats, and was considered by all a great success, and especially so by native Minnesotan Sgt. Scott Metcalf. Sgt. Metcalf traveled from his temporary home in San Antonio, TX and has been receiving care at the Brook Army Medical Center (BAMC) for injuries he'd sustained while serving with his Minnesota National Guard Unit in Iraq. Capt. Fil Spencer of Corpus Christi, TX led the expedition. The team included Maj. Roberson and retired Sfc. Don Bailey.

After the event, it was revealed the Sgt. Metcalf had felt some trepidation regarding this trip, as his injuries involved his knee and shoulder, and he was concerned perhaps he'd not be able to paddle. As he found out, the paddling wasn't near as demanding as he thought it might be, and furthermore he found that as he gained confidence paddling, his comfort levels increased to the point that he was leading the pack when underway to various points during the trip.

Capt. Fil Spencer said “This is is one of the best programs that anyone in the kayaking field can get involved with. Helping fellow Americans get on with their lives and opening doors and possibilities for some of those that have been injured physically and mentally. I can honestly tell you that being around these American heroes was a great honor. The feeling and the excitement they had to be able to get out of the hospital just for a day to experience the things that we take for granted, I can only tell you how happy they were to forget all their troubles for a day and how wonderful it made them feel as well as how wonderful it makes me feel just to help out.”

~Jim Dolan

How many military hospitals are you working with?

We are currently working with Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, Darnall Army Hospital at Ft Hood in Killeen, Texas, and Madigan Army Hospital at Ft Lewis near Tacoma, Washington. Expansion of the program across the nation will continue in 2009.

~Jim Dolan

How important are volunteers to this program?

Volunteers have stepped up big and are largely responsible for making HOW as successful as it is. Without them, we simply couldn't offer these American Heroes the outings.

We get most of our volunteers from the many Kayak Fishing Forums across the country. Texas Kayak Fisherman, Northwest Kayak Anglers, Tidewater Kayak Anglers, Kayak Fishing Stuff, and others have all provided volunteers and want to work with Heroes on the Water. We also have support from folks who have heard about the program via word of mouth and want to get involved.

~Jim Dolan

Why has program been successful?

Spend a day on the water with a group of soldiers and it will all be very clear. These guys live in a fairly controlled environment and deal with things daily we can not imagine. When they participate in HOW, they get to break away from that environment for a day and experience nature up close. Kayaking has proven to be an excellent skill for soldiers to pick up and an excellent way to relax.

In a kayak, rehabilitating soldiers have to paddle and move around on their own, bait their own hook, and remove their own fish. They are literally captains of their own ships. They can go where they want to go and do what they want to do. They get to control their world. They don't have to listen to or talk to anyone, unless they want to. That is amazingly therapeutic to someone recovering from injuries and trauma.

Soldiers experience both mental and physical benefits from participating in these kayak fishing trips, and learn a life-skill that they can carry with them as they move forward with their lives.

~Jim Dolan

How is the program funded?

The HOW program caught the attention of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and applications to one of their grant programs resulted in KASA being awarded a $50,000 grant, which is covering equipment cost associated with growing the program. Trailers, kayaks, paddles, personal floatation devices (PFDs), and fishing gear are currently being purchased to support the program at BAMC, and to expand the program to the Darnall Medical facility at Ft. Hood, Texas. All gear had previously been donated and KASA had relied on personal funds and a trickle of donations to help them with their mission. While there are serious additional needs for corporate and individual sponsorship of the HOW program and other KASA programs, the TPWD grant has been a tremendous boost to KASA's ability to grow. The TPWD grant does not cover related expenses such as storage costs for equipment, the cleaning fee for vacation homes donated by individuals and rental agencies, vehicles to tow trailers and move soldiers around the country and other cost incurred supporting the soldiers. KASA is recognized by both the state of Texas and the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation operating in Texas, and donations may be tax deductible as allowed by law.

~Kendal Larson

What are your plans for HOW in 2009?

KASA’s HOW program is very successful and many people wanted to jump on board in the summer and fall of ’08. We could not handle the expansion. We did not have a support structure, enough personnel, or enough money. The Board of Directors decided to slow down and develop the underlying structure to support a nationwide program. In 2009 we plan to expand and raise money to better support soldiers and hospitals and facilitate new chapters around the country. This will take hard work by many volunteers and donations/funds from multiple sources.

We have plans for outings with soldiers from the Brooke Army Medical Center, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, and Madigan Army Hospital. At a recent HOW event, several soldiers mentioned that they have spouses who are avid anglers as well. As a result, we will plan several outings for military members and spouses. We also have a family picnic planned in October ’09 for 300 service members and their families.

Some additional highlights include an outing with FFF Master Certified Fly Casting Instructors, a saltwater outing near Port Lavaca, Texas, and outings in Washington State near Seattle.

We are in contact with and planning to start new HOW Chapters at Walter Reed Army Hospital near Washington, DC, West Texas VA Health Care System in Big Springs, Texas, and the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System in Temple, Texas. Volunteers in locations such a California and Florida have also expressed interest in starting new chapters.

One of our most exciting new programs, slated to start in February at the Women’s Trauma Recovery Center (WTRC), is located at the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System in Temple, Texas. It is one of four residential treatment programs to exclusively treat women veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of Military Sexual Trauma (MST). This is an opportunity for many female kayak anglers to get directly involved with the HOW program.

~Jim Dolan

Kayak Anglers Society of America (KASA)

When and why was KASA created?

Mid-summer in 2007 a series of conversations between a few kayakers eventually led to the formation of the Kayak Anglers Society of America (KASA). The essence of these talks were that there

  • needed to be a national organization that reflected the interests of the kayak fishing community
  • that eventually this organization could potentially be a centralized voice for that same group and represent them in matters that affected them
  • that kayak fishing needed an advocacy group, and it was our desire to become that group.

This sounds like rather lofty and heady goals, and we recognized early on that it would take years, if not decades to grow KASA, but that is our intention. It was most important to us to ensure that the regional and local kayak fishing groups/websites didn't perceive us as a threat to them, but rather a partner in their efforts, so we've also tried to maintain a list of kayak fishing organizations on our website. We hope eventually, as issues such as launch points, regulations affecting kayak anglers, etc., come up, KASA will be there to help coalesce the voice of the kayak angling community so that it can be heard and that funding will be able to be channeled through KASA for projects (such as launch points) throughout the United States.

While our mission has evolved, our general goals still remain the same; we want KASA to be a general kayak fishing advocacy group, with diverse yet related sub-missions that adhere to that general theme.

~Kendal Larson

What is the organization's mission?

Our mission is to work through our programs to increase access to and participation in kayak angling throughout the United States. Our efforts so far have focused on introducing kayak fishing to military personnel, but our future plans include programs for women, youth, and veterans.

~Daniel Paschall

What are the 2009 plans for the larger organization?

While nearly all manpower has been focused on the HOW program, in 2009 there will be a new focus placed on kayak fishing training. A certification is being developed which will train kayak fishing instructors, who in turn will then go out and teach individuals who are new to kayak fishing safety concepts, fishing techniques, how to handle fishing gear, and other matters important to know when fishing from a kayak. These courses will include workbooks and on-the-water instruction, and is being developed in conjunction with some of the more experienced kayak anglers in the nation.

 

Where do you see KASA in 5 years? 10 years?

We can only hope that eventually HOW will be scaled back because fewer troops will be in harms way and the need will be less. For the larger organization, we want to create new programs to increase participation in kayak fishing with women, youth, retirees, and veterans. We are also working hard to create a kayak fishing training program to increase safety and awareness on the water. Eventually, we would like to play a role as national advocacy group for the sport by influencing policies that expand kayak fishing access, conserve fisheries, and protect the environment. All this will take time, but for the immediate future we are concentrating on Heroes on the Water.

 

 

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