Wisconsin lures fishermen and women by the hundreds-of-thousands, every year, to its lakes, rivers, creeks and ponds. Like the mythical Sirens, Wisconsin calls to many sportsmen and women, with its enchanting environment and opportunity to be both hunter and gatherer. It lured Heather Sangl to Tomah, all the way from Lafayette, Indiana, but not to fish, specifically. She started a job at the VA, and when Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing reached out, to start a chapter here, Heather jumped at the opportunity, as a way to give back. Tomah is part of the nonprofit’s rural initiative.
The only other Fly Fishing chapter, in the state of Wisconsin, is in Appleton. Sangl knows that the going may be tough at first, but that does not frighten her. “I have reached out to other groups in the area, such as the Wounded Warrior Project, and created a partnership with them. It is all about getting vets and active duty involved in a very fun activity,” Sangl stated. “We all need to be more social now. Covid made us strangers for too long. What better way is there to get back into being social than fishing?”
Project Healing Waters provides absolutely everything for its members. During Covid, packages full of supplies were sent to veterans and active duty members, to their homes and residences. With the gear at the ready, the newly equipped greenhorns could watch videos on tying the “flies” on the line, and even how to cast. Sangl says that some people may be intimidated by the process, but taken a step at a time, like anything else, you will be just fine.
Sangl says that the goal is to build a strong base for the group, getting as many people to join as they can. The nation-wide organization can coordinate trips, outings and even a rendezvous for several chapters to get together. The nonprofit derives a lot of their funding from grants, even offering to do studies on stress relief and anxiety calming. Heather derives her drive for this project from her own family, veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. When asked how many veterans were in her family, Heather paused, thought for a bit and replied, “A lot.”
As a therapist, she has recognized the crucial need for an outlet, for many veterans and active duty members, who have been through the same types of duty. Sangl’s family hails from Pittsburgh, a place not too unlike Wisconsin, when it comes to hard work ethics, veteran acknowledgment and helping out their fellow men and women. Sangl stated, “Gas prices are high, so I understand if travel is difficult to get to Tomah from the farther reaches of Wisconsin. We will drive to them, or get the materials to them, to get started.” Heather said that anyone can start a chapter, with enough interest and people. Tomah will serve as a hub for all the chapters that may pop up in the region.
Heather is the “First boots on the ground,” for Proect Healing Waters Fly Fishing, here in the Tomah region. She says that the most difficult part, straight away, is getting to know the area. Having lived in larger cities, such as Las Vegas, Tomah should be relatively easy to figure out. With her determination and understanding of veterans and the military, she will not be swimming upstream for too long.
More information can be obtained by emailing Sangl at Heather.Sangl@projecthealingwaters.org
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