Free retreat for men battling and recovering from cancer with ‘Reel Recovery’
Reel Recovery turns fly fishing into an unforgettable experience for men battling cancer.
SAN ANTONIO — Nineteen years ago, Reel Recovery began exposing men to fly fishing to get rid of cancer.
“It frees these men from their constant thought of being involved in cancer care and being absorbed by cancer,” said Rafael Torres.
He was recruited by the late Warren Wolf, who started a branch of the nonprofit in Texas in 2007. The Texas group has touched the lives of 500 men since its founding.
“I’ve had participants from 16, which is quite young for this program, all the way up to 70,” he said.
While Torres never had cancer, her parents did. And so are the friends and men he has encountered throughout Reel Recovery.
“A lot of men are afraid to ask for help or get anything,” Torres said.
Nationwide, the group hosts 30 free retreats each year for cancer fighters. Six of those weekend getaways are in Texas. Travel is the participants’ only expense, and accommodation and food are covered.
“I came home one day after that church, and I just passed out,” William White said.
White is an Air Force veteran and retired police officer from San Antonio. The 58-year-old husband and father were diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer.
“I can’t say a bit of fear hasn’t set in because of the unknown,” he said. “I had that confidence and I believe in my faith.”
White’s PSA levels are down and his cancer is in remission. But on this journey, he never had the chance to connect with men that way.
“It’s being around people who have been through the same thing as you,” White said.
He and three other men were invited to a veterans-only retreat at Camp Capers in Waring. Organizers said attendance levels have become slightly lower as a result of COVID and retreats typically host 14 men.
“They gave their time and their life and their blood and their sweat and their tears for us, you know, protecting our freedom,” Torres said.
Friday is check-in day and the start of “courageous conversations”.
The men share their cancer experience with the group and a professional therapist.
“We (men) like to keep things indoors, sometimes locked up,”
There are multiple brave conversations throughout the weekend where the sessions get candid and emotional.
Saturday comes with the Vest Ceremony, where participants receive the fishing vests from the men who came before them.
Names from across the country are written on the vests to show who it is and where it got real – California, Idaho and, of course, Texas.
“Most of them came out and survived cancer. A few didn’t,” Torres said.
The men are paired with experienced fly fishermen called fishing buddies. Their job is to teach Cancer Warriors how to fly fish, because no experience is required. This is where the magic of Reel Recovery really starts to work.
“It’s hard to put its impact into words,” said Zach Adair.
Adair is a science teacher who frees up time on his schedule to volunteer for Reel Recovery. He is paired with White, who can fish but cannot fly fish.
“My main goal for today is just to have a good day,” he said.
Adair begins his lesson on throwing a line as he and White walk through the Guadalupe River. He said someone told him to think about throwing a line like “Flicking a tomato” on a reel.
White makes his first try. Audibly he said, “Tomato on a stick.”
Torres, who was also a fishing buddy, said the men were starting to bond — that’s the real blessing.
“It was more the interpersonal relationship that each of these fishing buddies will develop with their participants,” he said. “And it’s just beautiful.”
When the men catch a fish, they take a picture of it and release it. The triumph of catching a fish brings joy, laughter and support.
“Rejuvenates the inner man,” said White. “And that’s what it did to me — rejuvenate my spirit.”
On Sunday, the men do a closing ceremony where it’s obvious their loot is more than a weekend retreat. Some things should be lived rather than written.
The band’s mantra is “Be Well”. To fish.’ And they’re looking for men recovering from cancer to cast a line and grab some fellowship.
Reel Recovery can be contacted at 800-699-4490 or [email protected]