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Body and Soul

(page 8 of 8)


Local fly fishing and watersports camps offer veterans an opportunity to reconnect with their bodies and their spirits.

John Puletasi coasts across Pettit Lake.There is nothing remarkable about the scene: a fly fisherman stands knee-high in the cold water of an Idaho freestone stream. He is still, watching the current carry his dry fly downstream. The air is warm, filled with the identifiable streamside sweetness of cottonwood and horsemint. A slight breeze ruffles the willows on the bank, the only other sounds the occasional song of a red-winged blackbird, the background buzz of a bee.

It’s a scene that is replayed on streams and rivers throughout the Wood River Valley all summer long. And yet, for one group of fishermen—veterans recently returned from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan—the scene is miraculous. In lives that have been forever altered by debilitating injuries, the opportunity to be quiet, to focus, to rely, again, on their own bodies, is life-changing.

Higher Ground, a local non-profit organization dedicated to using sports and recreational activities as a means of healing, therapy, and rehabilitation for veterans coping with disabilities, runs two fly fishing camps and a watersports camp on local waters each year.

The camps offer veterans—or warriors, as they are referred to at Higher Ground—the opportunity to rediscover both their physical abilities within the new parameters created by their injuries and to recognize that they are part of a community.

Photos courtesy Sun Valley Adaptive Sports


Left to right: American hero Damien Jacobs enjoys the healing waters of the Salmon River; Jason Barefoot paddleboards at Pettit Lake; Luke Wilson angles for trout on the Big Wood River.

“I think many of the warriors really want to know that they’re not crazy and that they’re not alone. They want to know that they are capable and able, not only to do sports but to enter into new relationships and to feel what they could feel before their injuries,” says Higher Ground operations manager Kate Weihe.

At the fly fishing camps, warriors are sent out on day trips with professional guides from Silver Creek Outfitters; at the annual water sports camp, they spend five days at Pettit Lake, learning to use a sit-ski, a kayak and a canoe, and rafting down a day stretch of the Salmon River.

For Army veteran Sean Johnson, as for so many of the warriors, the Higher Ground experience was transformative. “Fly fishing is the first sport I’ve learned that I can truly do on my own,” Sean says. “For the first time since my injury, I was able to truly relax and enjoy myself.”
Higher Ground programs also offer caregivers an opportunity to relax and provide dedicated time for couples to spend together. “[The camp] gives couples the perfect setting to spend quality time and just really look at each other,” says Weihe. “They can remember why they fell in love and can realize that they are the same people after the injury and they just have to learn to communicate differently.”

For the warriors, reconnecting with their body and their spirit in this unique setting can remind them of the beauty and the honor in their chosen path, says Higher Ground program manager Sean McEntee: “Spending time on the water and going to the places in this Valley that are so magical lets these guys look around and think, This is why I went to war; this is what I’m fighting for.” -Diana Price




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