Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Fly Fishing Group Helps Heal Veteran's Mind, Body and Spirit

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Fly Fishing Group Helps Heal Veteran's Mind, Body and Spirit

Article excerpt

MEMPHIS, Tenn. | He's better. Army Special Forces veteran Paul Holcomb is sure of that much.

He doesn't disappear for days at a time anymore, unsure how he came to be lying in the bushes with a rifle in his hand.

True, he still doesn't like crowds -- "If I'm around a lot of people I'm thinking, 'Who's the bad guy here?' " -- and when he is in restaurants he sits with his back against the wall.

"If I can't put my back to the wall, I leave," said Holcomb, 44 and a veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and other combat zones, as he practiced casting at Beaver Lake in Shelby Farms Park.

Now if Holcomb measures his post-traumatic stress disorder on a scale of one to 10, he figures he fluctuates between four and six most of the time. It's part of his everyday life, but since he became involved with Project Healing Waters he has slowly gotten better.

Turns out, at least for Holcomb and a lot of other vets with one or more disabilities, learning the gentle art of fly fishing has been a godsend.

"It's my drug of choice," he said.

For the record, he wasn't on drugs or abusing alcohol when he wound up the bushes with a rifle in his hands. He was just trying to go back to the life he knew; from 1998 through 2006 he was overseas in the Special Forces.

If this brings to mind the recent movie "American Sniper" and the story of Chris Kyle, who struggled to adapt to civilian life after he finished serving his country, it's with good reason. To watch that movie was to see his own reflection.

"I felt like that for a year," Holcomb said.

Today, Project Healing Waters has more than 180 chapters nationwide and in Australia and Canada. Holcomb is a program graduate and now a program leader in Jackson, Tenn.

Project Healing Waters founder Ed Nicholson was a retired Navy captain and in 2005 was hospitalized in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He saw wounded vets returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and he thought it might do them some good to accompany him on fly fishing outings. That was the beginning.

What Nicholson discovered is that the simple act of tying flies, fly fishing, and spending time with other vets both in classes and in the outdoors had therapeutic value that could not be gleaned from a book, video or formal counseling session. …

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