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Roanoke ecotherapy program gets veterans, first responders on the water

This summer marks second season for Heroes on the Water in the Roanoke Valley

Courtesy: Heroes on the Water- Roanoke Chapter
Courtesy: Heroes on the Water- Roanoke Chapter

ROANOKE, Va. – A new season of Heroes on the Water kicks off at Smith Mountain Lake this month. This is the second summer for the organization that works with local veterans and first responders.

Heroes on the Water is centered around the idea of ecotherapy, which allows those participating to heal and open up while interacting with the outdoors. By providing kayak fishing outings to veterans, active duty personnel and first responders, Heroes on the Water offers a relaxed environment for them to talk and interact with people who have similar experiences.

The Heroes on the Water program originally started in Texas and quickly spread to other parts of the country. When local veteran and pastor, Mark Lewis heard about the success, he said he knew he needed to start a chapter in the Roanoke Valley.

"Our founder took a couple of people out kayak fishing and they commented on how relaxing it was to be away from the medical environment and being away from psychological therapy and physical therapy," says Lewis. "They just enjoyed being out in nature and that kind of clicked, we just spread from there."

According to a study by the Therapeutic Recreation Journal, kayak fishing is proven to be therapeutic and help relieve multiple issues related to combat deployment.

Last summer marked the first year of Heroes on the Water and Lewis says the calming effect that fishing and kayaking had on those who attended was amazing to see.

Lewis says events like this are important for veterans and first responders, as it can be difficult for family and friends to bring up therapy. With an event like Heroes on the Water, family and friends are instead asking them on a fishing trip, where they'll be able to interact with other people who have similar experiences.

"So many of the veterans and first responders carry stressors that most of us don't even understand," he says. "So the goal of this is just to get them to relax, to get them to reconnect with nature and with their family in the form of ecotherapy."

Inviting their families is key as well. Lewis says having their families along gives these men and women a chance to connect with their loved ones in a relaxed and stress-free environment.

The trips, which are free, kick off next weekend with a two-night camping trip to Smith Mountain Lake. 

To preregister, click here. For questions or how to sign up, contact Heroes on the Water here, or email Mark Lewis at roanokevalleyva@heroesonthewater.org 

Outing dates for 2018:
April 27-28: Smith Mountain Lake- Food provided by Mission BBQ and Scratch Biscuit
May 11: IWL Pond (PM)- Fishing event only
June 9: Carvins Cove
June 22: IWL Pond (PM)- Fishing event only
July 7: New River- Riverview Park
July 13: Roanoke River (PM)- Fishing event only
August 11: Carvins Cove
August 24: IWL Pond (PM)- fishing event only
September 8: James River- Buchanan Park, beside Twin Rivers
September 29: New River- Riverview Park