- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Mark Henderson leans back on the bank and looks out over the glassy water of a pond that’s been part of his family for generations.

He grew up in the home that backs up to the water; now, his two sons and daughter run across the shores of the pond. Down the bank, a man and his son cast into the water.

The grass is green, the sky is clear and the fish are jumping; Sunday, April 12, was the perfect day at Mill Creek Trout Farm, Henderson said.

“Look at this,” Henderson said. “Isn’t this what it’s all about?”

The idyllic setting is something the 42-year-old had envisioned for his retirement decades from now. Last April, Henderson opened up the trout farm to allow people the chance to have a private place to fish.

To get to a spring day with playing kids and fishermen being out on the pond has been a dramatic journey for Henderson, who until 2010 had worked as a heating and cooling repairman.

That summer, Henderson fell 20 feet off a ladder while on a job in West Virginia. The fall broke both his heels. It disintegrated the bones in his ankles. His whole body was covered in dark bruises.

At first doctors weren’t sure if he’d make it. When he pulled through, they told his wife, Laura Neff-Henderson, he probably wouldn’t walk again.

“It was so scary,” she said.

Henderson said it was tough not to interact with his children. He had to spend most of his time in a hospital bed propped up in his living room.

“My daughter would ask me to come down on the floor and color with her,” Mark Henderson said. “I would just say, ‘No I can’t.’ It was just so hard to say no to my little girl.”

His family moved to a new home up the road from the trout farm. He spent a year in a wheelchair and stuck in the hospital bed. Then there were hours and hours of physical therapy and doctor’s appointments. To this day, his feet and legs are fused at the ankles so they don’t bend. It’s very difficult for him to get around even though he can walk, he said.

But after a few years and the ability to walk again, Henderson decided it was time to find purpose again. This time it would be in the trout farm.

Last year, Henderson began cleaning up the area around the pond, which he purchased from a relative. Work was sometimes slow because of difficulties with his mobility. He got the area opened up for business on April 1, 2014.

There are two ponds, one warmer one stocked with catfish and bluegill that folks are free to catch and release. Then there’s a cooler pond where people can pull out trout year round and even take them home for a meal of freshly caught fish.

Henderson will also educate visitors on fishing. If a child, or an adult, comes down and doesn’t know how to fish, he’ll teach them. He’ll also help them prepare their fish for eating.

Michael Olszewski, 16, has visited the trout farm a half-dozen times with his father. And even though he knew how to fish, it was Henderson who really taught him how to clean fish to prepare them for the table, he said.

Education is one of the most important things about his trout farm, Henderson said.

He said he wants to help parents get their children a safe place to play outdoors and away from video games.

“Don’t use the TV as a babysitter,” Henderson said. “Come out here instead.”

That mantra is something he’s taken to heart, letting his kids run around and enjoy the creek he grew up on.

The whole Henderson clan has helped out. His children help feed the fish in the ponds every morning, as well as clear weeds and brush that can be difficult for their father to reach. Neff-Henderson designed the website and company logos.

The business also gives him flexibility. Some days, Henderson struggles to get around because of swelling in his feet. On those days, he will ask customers to postpone their visits. It’s a way to help him manage his pain and his duties as a father, he said.

Henderson’s grandfather Rudolph Henderson started a trout farm in the ponds back in the 1950s. He’d invite people out to pay for fish they caught and they could do a little camping.

Now Henderson, a stay-at-home dad after his accident, has used it not only as a business but also as his therapy.

Being outdoors has helped him heal, and beautiful days like Sunday have helped him keep going. Sometimes something as simple as lying on the bank can make him feel better.

“Sunshine is my best medicine,” Henderson said.


Information from: The Roanoke Times, https://www.roanoke.com

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