Fly-fishing always provides respite from the stress of daily life – and no-one needs a break more than those who are battling cancer.
Reel Recovery is a non-profit organisation that runs a special fishing retreat once a year for men who are in any stage of treatment, recovery or remission from all forms of cancer.
Applications are now open for their February 2020 retreat at Castlerock Lodge near Te Awamutu where up to a dozen participants will receive one-on-one tuition from experienced fly-fishermen while also supporting each other on their cancer journey through their conversations.
Organiser Craig Caldwell says Reel Recovery provides men with a unique opportunity to share their stories, learn a new skill, form lasting friendships and gain renewed hope as they confront the challenges of cancer together.
“We thought it would be great to give something back to guys who are having an unimaginably horrible time,” he says. “During the retreats we encourage them to have courageous conversations in a guided non-threatening environment. They can all relate to each other, what they’re going through and are wonderfully supportive of one another. These retreats can be life-changing.”
Reel Recovery first started in Colorado, USA, in 2003. Craig has always been a keen fisherman and heard about the initiative through this involvement with a similar women’s group called Casting for Recovery. Knowing there was a huge need for a men’s support retreat in New Zealand, he introduced the concept here in 2014. Since then, Craig has run seven retreats locally where 73 Kiwi men have had the opportunity to attend.
While Craig’s own parents have been affected by cancer, he says that’s not his main motivation to get involved. “It’s just the fact that it’s a very special programme and we’re able to do it. The satisfaction at the end of the weekend for all those assisting is just tremendous.”
Time to reflect
Aside from fishing, the participants work as a group with a conversation guide to ponder some reflective questions, allowing them to open up and share what they’re going through.
“The questions are designed to get men to think about their cancer in a different manner – to explore the wider angles and impacts on them and their families, rather than simply a disease they want to get rid of, deny, repress or suppress,” Craig says.
“We want men to reflect on the notion that they can learn from their cancer if they are willing to entertain the wider questions and impacts it has on them and their lives. Cancer, as one of those life changing moments, can be a great teacher and can open up new areas of their lives for exploration and growth.”
Men often say the retreat is the first time they feel able to talk freely about their cancer without feeling the need to ‘stay strong’ for everyone else. It is valuable for them to reflect, share stories and a build a bond with others experiencing the same journey.
Feedback from participants is always moving, including this testimonial from one man: “I had no idea the affect and influence these group sessions would have on me. Some of the topics were emotionally difficult; they required you to enter that kaleidoscope of emotions you experience as a cancer sufferer. Listening to the group reveal their individual stories, emotions and experiences, was one of the most moving and emotional moments of my life. These sessions helped me move from the dark and lonely place cancer had put me in.”
Reel Recovery owns all its own fishing gear, and complete novices through to those with a passion for fishing are welcome. “We make sure they all look like fishermen, they feel like fishermen, and they’re with fishermen. The whole thing just works really. It’s incredible.”
Those attending next year’s retreat (28th February – 1st March) will be taught how to catch and release rainbow and brown trout from the Puniu and Mangatutu Rivers near Te Awamutu. Skills will also include casting, knots, fly selection and presentation, fly line selection and fishing techniques.
All retreats are free with Reel Recovery providing all meals, lodging and fishing equipment. Participants are responsible for their own transportation to the retreat location. Auckland Waikato Fish and Game provide the participants’ fishing licenses for the weekend.
Volunteers & mentors
Craig says around 20 volunteers are needed for each retreat which costs about $4000 to run. Donations from the public are always welcome to help the initiative continue and 100% of the money raised goes towards running the retreats themselves.
He is regularly invited by angling clubs to be a guest speaker and has received a lot of support from across the Bay of Plenty and Waikato in particular from fishermen who are keen to act as mentors and teach participants the fly-fishing skills required.
“Some of the cancer support nurses are very passionate about Reel Recovery too and talk about it with their patients a lot – the ladies from Tauranga for example, and the oncology department at Waikato DHB are right behind it. Places like the Prostate Foundation also refer men to us which is great.”
Those who are keen to attend next year’s event are asked to complete an online application form at http://reelrecovery.org.nz/programs/application/ A medical release form is also required closer to the retreat time to ensure everyone is safely able to participate.
Craig says by the end of the weekend strong bonds have been formed, and the men involved feel a big sense of gratitude. “That’s always something that comes through at the end, people are in awe of the fact that other people have given up their weekends to help them.”
If you would like to make a donation to Reel Recovery to help fund a future retreat, please use the following bank account: 02-0440-0066863-66.