Fly-fishing therapy helps wounded vets recover

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - “A bad jump” left Army veteran Joe Provens disabled with back injuries.

Ever since, Provens has experienced numbness, especially in his left side. He lost sensitivity in both hands.

“I tend to drop stuff,” said Provens, 43.

Provens, who lives in Maxton, has found a therapy of sorts through fly fishing. The intricate work and concentration required to tie the lures helps with his motor skills.

And the experience of being with people of similar interests and backgrounds has helped Provens and other veterans improve their social skills.

Provens is one of more than a dozen veterans and active-duty military personnel in the Fayetteville chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.

The organization, which includes about 160 chapters in 48 states, is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of soldiers through the sport of fly fishing. It is offered in cooperation with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

“We focus on the fly casting skills, fly tying and the concentration part of it,” said Tom Carpenter, an education specialist at John E. Pechmann Fishing Education Center near Lake Rim Park, where the group meets. “A lot of the guys are suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It really becomes a big help with that.”

The national program was founded in 2005 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to help wounded service members returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The local group has been meeting at Pechmann Center for about a year and became officially recognized by the national organization last summer, Carpenter said. It spun off an existing program in Wilmington.

Members meet regularly to learn the finer points of fly fishing and to plan trips to use what they have learned. Recently, a fishing trip to Pennsylvania was in the works.

Fly fishing is a type of angling that uses light-weight, hand-tied “flies,” or lures, to attract fish.

The technique uses a weighted line and requires a casting technique different from other types of fishing.

Healing Waters participants say fly fishing’s unique qualities have helped them deal with their military service-related wounds.

Jimmy Lawler, 50, suffered a traumatic brain injury in the Army. He said the act of tying a fly helps with his hand-eye coordination.

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