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Kayak fishing good therapy for wounded

Service members, family members spend day fishing on American Lake thanks to nonprofit organization

Published: 11:36AM June 27th, 2013
Kayak fishing good therapy for wounded

Dean Siemon/Northwest Guardian

Several wounded active duty and retired service members took part in a Heroes on the Water kayak fishing event Saturday on American Lake.

Many injured service members often go through a daily routine of hospital visits, treatments and isolation while they recover.

Heroes on the Water, a nationwide organization, provides a temporary escape from the realities of their injuries with kayak, canoe and fishing events for active duty or retired military members.

The Heroes on the Water Northwest Chapter invited service members from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and nearby communities for fun outdoors, including kayak fishing on American Lake Saturday.

“Just being able to do something other than sitting in their hospital rooms or doing their treatments,” said Dino Abulencia, Northwest Chapter coordinator.

Sixteen service members and a few family members piled into 16 boats loaded with fishing gear for a day on the water.

Each kayak had all the gear needed to be on the water — life vests, fishing rods, bait and more.

There were also eight volunteer guides on the lake to help the service members when necessary. Volunteers included active duty service members from JBLM, as well as civilians.

“I was already kayak fishing every weekend,” said 1st Lt. Filiberto Martinez of the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. “Why not volunteer, show people the sport and then take wounded Soldiers out for a good day of fishing. Let them relax, have a good time and just share it with them.”

Going out on the water was therapeutic for Master Sgt. Kevin Fitzpatrick, from the Warrior Transition Battalion at Madigan Army Medical Center. There haven’t been many chances for him to get away from the stress after cervical spinal fusion surgery on his neck, except when he goes out on the water in a kayak.

“When you get out there, it’s nice, calm, cool and collected,” Fitzpatrick said. “You just sit there and enjoy yourself. You forget what’s going on and just relax.”

Other kayakers suffering traumatic brain injuries, concussions and PTSD found relief on the lake. Harry Gonzalez, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, called the event “soothing” and “relaxing.”

“There’s nothing to be concerned about,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just you on the water.”

Gonzalez brought his wife, Alisa, who said she’s used to being on the sidelines while her husband is invited to community events for wounded warriors.

“You can’t rebuild just the Soldier,” Abulencia said. “The family is part of the rebuilding.”

The event included one less meal to prepare for wounded warrior families by providing a barbecue lunch.

“For me, I also want to make sure they come and enjoy the food,” Abulencia said, who cooks the meal with his wife at all of the organization’s events.

The Northwest Chapter plans a crab pot event this summer, for which they’ll cook crab they catch later in July. Other planned fishing trips will go after pink and chum salmon.