I was recently given the opportunity to volunteer for my first Heroes on the Water event. There aren’t many words that can express that experience and what it meant to me, but I’ll give it a shot.
It’s extremely humbling to be in the presence of true heroism and bravery, and those men and women acted no different than anyone else. To be honest, I was very nervous heading into the event mostly because I knew that these guys have seen more and been through more than I could ever comprehend. I eventually remembered why I wanted to volunteer and what HOW stood for and why they exist, and I put all of my anxiety aside for a higher purpose.
I arrived about thirty minutes early to help unload the kayaks, paddles, PFD’s, and whatever else needed to be set before the crowd arrived. There is a lot more manpower, planning, and detail that goes into these events that I had previously thought. After we got everything unloaded and set up, the vets started to show up and get registered. There were guys that showed up by themselves and whole families that came to enjoy the day together. It was a cool sight to witness these real American heroes just being dads and husbands, and not the soldiers that I had envisioned. My job, after set up, was to get on the water with the vets and fish and mingle with them. I immediately found a small group of guys fishing near each other but not together and decided to plop myself in the middle and just kind of make small talk with all of them. I could tell some of them preferred to fish in quiet and that was ok, but I at least wanted to try. It didn’t take long before we were all chatting and enjoying the cool morning and calm water. We swapped fishing stories and talked about our kids, wives, and how hot it was going to get later in the day. Literally everything else seemed to fade away, or at least not matter in that moment. We paddled around together for a couple of hours and we all caught fish after fish, all the while taking grip n grin shots of each other.
After landing about 20 bass in the kayak before 11:00 it was time to paddle ashore and get ready for lunch. HOW graciously provided the vets, volunteers, and families with a delicious lunch. I had the opportunity to continue to visit with more vets and their families as well as fellow volunteers. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to listen these guys talk about how they’ve been impacted by combat both physically and mentally. I got to listen to the numerous ways that HOW has affected their lives. One brave soldiers told me that these events are the few times when he doesn’t have to think about anything else other than fishing. The injuries, bills, jobs, and other points of stress do not matter on that day. It’s just a day for fishing and that’s definitely something that we can all relate to.
I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in my first HOW event. I leave a more humbled man, and a man that sees first hand the sacrifices made in the name of freedom. It was a day that has left a lasting imprint in my life, and I’m chomping at the bit to get to the next one. For more information about HOW, volunteering, or donating, please click the link below.