Virginia Crossroads Project Healing Waters - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Virginia Crossroads Project Healing Waters

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Jake Blizzard fishing Back Creek in Bath County Jake Blizzard fishing Back Creek in Bath County

Is it possible that flowing water (and a few fish) are more powerful than medicine?  As helpful as group therapy?  Perhaps more.

 For veterans returning from war the answer is often yes.

 "There is something magical that happens.  There are success stories that I have seen personally. You can't comprehend ‘em," says Dan Genest of Dominion (Virginia Power) which is hosting two days of fishing.

 Project Healing Waters … which started in 2005 has seen remarkable results, by simply putting a fly rod in the hands of Veterans with PTSD.

On this early October day, there are eleven of them from across Virginia spending two days fishing Back Creek on Dominion Energy's property in remote Bath County.

 Jake Blizzard of Troutville appears to be healing right before our eyes.

 Blizzard: "That's a nice fish. Feels great."

Carlin: "How many is that today?" 

Blizzard: "Eight."

Though he makes it look easy, just coming here today would have been a struggle for Jake, an M-1 tank driver from the first gulf war, who suffered two scud missile attacks on his barracks.

"I wouldn't have been able to .. I wouldn't have drove up here and done this on my own," says Blizzard.  "It was kind of like a, you know, come on, you can do it… Confidence builder I guess."

Jake, who receives treatment through the program at the Salem Veteran's Hospital, feels guilt for surviving when others died.  He re-lives the attacks and visions of war.  Crowds scare him.  He was barely able to socialize with his family.

"I'd stay in the bedroom.   I'd come out get something to eat, hang out for a little while go back to the bedroom." 

Carlin: "For how long?" 

Blizzard: "Years -- It was bad."

 Diagnosed with severe PTSD, compounded by 18 surgeries tied to exposure to chemical weapons, Jake found little comfort with traditional therapies.  Until a friend recommended Healing Waters.  He started making his own flies… fishing a bit in local ponds, and today is his first day ever trying to hook a trout.

 "It's hard to explain.  It's just something.  It's like a comfort.  You're out in the outdoors. Nobody can bother you. You're pretty much left along to do your thing," he said. 

 Any fly fisherman will tell you it's not necessarily about catching the fish.  It's about being in a beautiful place and about solving the problem – how to make the fish bite.  It involves a lot of concentration and the vets say that's what helps the most.

 Dan Genest has seen it time and again. "It's not just fishing.  It's not about fishing.  It's about them and the journey they take through fishing.  And the changes have been miraculous," he said.

 "It's almost like a kid playing with a toy.  You get so focused on what you are doing you don't have any time to think of anything else… The excitement of seeing the fish chasing down your fly and you are concentrating so hard on catching it, that nothing else is really going through your mind," said Blizzard.

 That focus is like a cleansing process, slowly clearing away some of those bad memories and Jake says, building confidence.  His family life was already improving – and his time here he thinks will help even more.

 As Jake stands there in the crystal clear water with rapids rushing on both sides of him, he seems truly at peace.  "All the medicine in the world -- You can't beat standing out there in that stream..  It's just relaxing."

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