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Fishing Tournament Helps Veterans Heal - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Fishing Tournament Helps Veterans Heal

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Participants got lessons from fly-fishing experts and even got to fish along side a Redskins player. Participants got lessons from fly-fishing experts and even got to fish along side a Redskins player.

Wounded veterans from across the country broke out their reels and nets Sunday for a fly-fishing tournament in Madison County.

Over the weekend, the non-profit Project Healing Waters hosted its seventh annual Two-Fly Tournament. The event brings together men and women injured in battle and gets them hooked on the peaceful form of therapy.

For Ryan Whightman, it was a moment of healing. The Marine started tying flies to bring dexterity back to his right hand after he was injured in combat last May. When he got out of an electric wheelchair, Whightman took his first trip to the river. Now, he can cast a line while standing on the dock.

"The first time you stand up when you couldn't walk – indescribable," he said. "The first time you catch a fish when you haven't been able to do it - it's indescribable."

On Sunday, Whightman joined 250 other veterans, fly fishermen and their families from across the country for the tournament at Rose River Farm in Madison County.

"We all have similar experiences. Whether you were injured or not, you have a lot of past experiences that you can pull upon and then you're making new ones here," he said.

The program has grown to 150 chapters in 46 states in the past seven years, thanks to fundraisers like the tournament.

"This program - we've been able to expand it into all the different Virginia hospitals and bring that therapy to anybody who wants it basically," said Douglas Dear, the chair of the Healing Waters board.

Participants got casting lessons from famed fly fishing expert and World War II veteran Lefty Kreh. They even fished alongside Washington Redskins safety Reed Doughty.

"Being in this area we've got Redskin fans, we have some Cowboy fans that I get to jest with a little bit," Doughty said. "I'm really humbled to be involved and let ‘em know that they're the real heroes here."

Whightman plans to make this tournament a new tradition. "You're hooked. Its pun intended," he said.

This year the tournament raised more than $200,000.

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