Port Tobacco resident Edwin Nicholson, 71, was touched by the struggles of disabled young veterans returning from service, so he did something to help. He took them fly fishing.
Nicholson was recently chosen as one of seven 2013 winners of the Purpose Prize, awarded by the nonprofit Encore.org to people over 60 who are “combining their passion and experience for the social good. The Purpose Prize is designed to demonstrate that people over 60 still have much to give.
Nicholson is a Vietnam veteran and prostate cancer survivor who founded Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, which mentors disabled vets during fishing trips around the world. A former Navy captain with an impressive 30-year military career followed by 10 years working as an executive with a defense contractor, Nicholson retired in 2005 prepared to spend his time doing what he loved: hunting and fishing. But, a bout with prostate cancer sent him to Walter Reed for treatment, and there he saw the injured young soldiers who had returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It gave me a different perspective on my healing process,” he says. “I wanted to do something immediately. I had to think they would enjoy getting away from the hospital and into the outdoors.”
Nicholson invited some of them to go fishing, and Project Healing began to take shape. Today, there are 158 programs in 48 states and affiliates in Australia and Canada. More than 2,300 volunteers worked with 4,000 wounded soldiers in 2012.
Volunteers teach soldiers the art of tying the delicate flies that attract the fish then they take them fishing, rolling wheelchairs near the water, helping those with prosthetic legs wade into streams, and teaching those with missing hands how to cast lines. In the process, the volunteers – many retired military – form bonds with the soldiers and teach them how to combat stress and deal with the emotional toll of their injuries.