HUNTINGTON, W.Va -- Ron Curry is amazed at the changes a spool of thread and a few colorful feathers have made in his life.
Curry, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, is one of many Huntington-area veterans whose lives have been changed by Project Healing Waters, an initiative that gets disabled vets involved in the many facets of fly fishing.
"It has really helped me to function in life," Curry said. "I had been going to the vet center, getting counseling for PTSD and trying to learn coping skills, but I still used to 'isolate' too much.
"Then Project Healing Waters got me started in fly fishing. It's given me a new lease on life. I'm not as isolated, and I'm able to enjoy myself a lot more."
Brent Sturm, recreational therapist at Huntington's Veterans Administration Hospital, said the program is making a difference in the lives of dozens of local veterans.
"I'd conservatively estimate that in the last year and a half, 75 to 80 vets have come through the program's fly-fishing, fly-tying and rod-building classes," Sturm said. "We're getting men and women involved who have all sorts of disabilities -- lost limbs, traumatic brain injuries and PTSD. The classes and fishing trips are giving these folks something to look forward to."
The program got started in June 2011 when Bob White, a veteran who had helped with a Charleston-based Project Healing Waters effort, decided to get a similar program started in Huntington.
"I approached the folks at the VA Hospital, and they thought it was a good idea. They got me in touch with Brent, who was in the process of starting a recreation program," White recalled.
Sturm liked what White told him.
"Bob said Project Healing Waters would provide the instructors and the gear," Sturm said. "That sounded great to me. We got the word out, and it snowballed from there."
The first class taught the vets how to cast a fly rod. Other classes soon followed -- fly tying, rod building, leader tying and lanyard making. From time to time, class participants took fishing trips to put their newly found skills to use.
"The great thing about the program is that there is no cost to the vets," White said. "Everything is supplied, from the fly-tying materials to the rods and reels and lines."
Founded in 2005 at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center to provide recreation for wounded soldiers, Project Healing Waters has since grown into a nationwide nonprofit organization.