Project Healing Waters helps veterans find peace one rod at a time

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MADISON COUNTY, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- For many people, fishing is a relaxing sport, and for hundreds of combat veterans, it can also heal.

On Sunday, veterans and volunteers from across the nation gathered at a farm in Madison County for the 10th Annual 2-Fly Fishing Tournament, which raises money for veteran services.

The tournament is the nonprofit Project Healing Water's biggest event, and it brought out dozens of veterans who may be from different eras, but all share one common bond.

"First, I stepped into the river and picked up five right away," said retired Sergeant and U.S. combat veteran Larry Fivecoats. "They shut down and I ended up with five right before the bell rang, so that's a pretty good morning."

Fivecoats was one of dozens of vets that had a fun morning in the water, which was a different experience than one they all have in common.

"Been through the hell and back," said Fivecoats. "Different era, same story."

For Fivecoats, war had a lasting impact in his life, from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to even contemplating suicide, but he found an escape through the sport of fly fishing.

"I can hear those ripples from way up here," said Fivecoats. "I can hear that and just calm down and it really is helpful and I know somebody around here has got my back and that's the best part."

This is the work of Project Healing Water and CEO Ellen Killough says they've raised over a million dollars for vet services.

"Eighty-four cents of every dollar we raise is spent directly on programming," said Killough. "So with an administrative cost ratio of around 15 percent or 16 percent, that makes us a very lean organization."

This year brought in the biggest crowd of 350 people, which means they couldn't hold the tournament without volunteers.

"We're just one small part of everything that's going on," said Tournament Volunteer Kevin Daniels. "There's three of us on each beat. We keep an eye on the stream, we count the fish if they want to measure them."

Nationwide, the organization has 3,000 who've served 7,500 vets, by teaching them how to fly fish or taking more experienced fishers out on adventures. They help locally too, according to Charlottesville Program Lead Ira Strouse.

"Various clubs have all welcomed us to come visit and take people there, take soldiers there, take veterans," said Strouse. "It's really all come together, to get involved you really only need to contact us, everything is free."

It's all free, because they want to help wounded vets, and Fivecoats says being together on something as calming as the water, really works.

"We don't have to put on airs, we don't have to explain ourselves," said Fivecoats. "We are what we are and we all know it."

The next big event is the the ninth Annual Mossy Creek Invitational in June. You can learn more information about that and about Project Healing Waters by clicking the link alongside this story.

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