Heartwarming experience

What an emotional, gratifying, heartwarming, special, spectacular day yesterday.

Men and women were invited to Matlacha this past weekend to take part in the Warrior and Caregiver Retreat, two days put on by Wounded Warrior Anglers to treat the warriors and caregivers to a stress free day.

Friday night kicked off with a captain’s dinner at Miceli’s Restaurant in Matlacha to provide the warriors and caregivers with the opportunity to meet the men who were taking them out on the water the following day. As everyone gathered around the table and enjoyed pizza, new friendships were formed. Conversations were had, laughter was shared and life long memories were created.

It’s truly amazing to witness how complete strangers turn into instant friends in a matter of minutes for the simple reason of them sharing a common experience – serving in the military.

Saturday morning I arrived at the Olde Fish House Marina minutes before a presentation was had by Tim, who is a part of Bimimi Bay Outfitters. He presented the warriors with rods and reels. The night before the warriors received sunglasses for their fishing trip.

Dave Souders, co-founder of Wounded Warrior Anglers, said the rod and reel is a tool for their own therapy, so they can continue to fish beyond the day of the retreat.

As all the warriors were called upon to receive their rod and reel the excitement of fishing began to fill the space.

Once completed, the captains and warriors filled one of eight boats that were stocked with what they needed. Their spouses, or significant others, kissed them goodbye and sent them on their way wishing a great day of fishing.

As everyone became settled the engines were turned on and the boats departed one at a time. The smiles and glows that filled these warrior’s faces were priceless. The captains also shared the same excitement.

The amazing part of that moment, is all of these captains donated their time and boats Saturday because they all believe in the organization’s cause.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGeorge who joined the festivities for the first time Saturday, as a captain, said the experience of taking the warriors out on the boat was “awesome.” He instantly became hooked and is looking forward to the next retreat.

As George sat there and shared stories of their day out on the water, a permanent smile remained on his face as he shared how excited Paul, one of the warriors on his boat, was the entire time they were fishing. Although Jim, another warrior that was aboard the boat, goes fishing quite often, George said Jim shared that it was the best day he has had on the water since October.

Those reasons alone are what captures the beauty of what the organization is all about. These generous captains created a stress free day for these warriors who battle with so many injuries and PTSD. Because of these captains, these men and women who fought for our freedom and served our country, forget about their worries while focusing on catching fish after fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA short time after they left the docks, five caregivers and Dave’s wife, Judy, also a co-founder of the organization, walked to Spa 33 for their day of relaxation.

Nadine and Tammey, owners of Spa 33 in Matlacha, close their business for the day to treat caregivers to a manicure, facial, massage, make-up, as well as a having their hair styled. These owners wanted to take care of these caregivers because they take care of the warriors who kept us safe. They shared that so many times when women are taking care of their loved ones they often times forget to take care of themselves.

The day, I believe was just as touching to Nadine and Tammey, as well as the rest of their staff, as it was to all of the caregivers. What huge hearts these women have. Once again because of their generosity, life long memories were created as some of the women experienced massages for the first time.

Again, these women who met for the first time this weekend shared an instant connection, which sparked nonstop conversations of their husbands, and boyfriend, as well as the experiences they had when they were deployed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was such a positive environment that had continuous laughter as the women one-by-one became more relaxed as they were treated to personalize pampering.

The word “thank you” was shared more than once as the afternoon began to sink in for these caregivers.

Although a day of pampering was had, Danielle said she enjoyed the conversation the most.

“The conversation was my favorite,” she said. “I’m talking to adults and not kids.”

Many of the women expressed that they were more excited about their husband and boyfriend being out on the water fishing. They all said it was good for them because many times they do not share the experiences they had while in the service.

This is the second time I have spent the day with the men and women who were brought in from either Lee County, Collier County or other areas of Florida for the retreat. The day pulls on my heart as I witness just how much the day means to them . . . how as the day goes on they become more relaxed and their daily worries disappear.

I am so fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful organization that truly helps others. I am also honored to have been asked to serve on their board.

battle of matlachaThe conversations I had with these men and women will stay with me forever, especially one I had after the men returned from their fishing trip.

The moments I shared with Angel, who served in the Army for 26 ½ years, tugged at my heart. As we sat there, he shared a few stories of when he was deployed, which truly meant a lot to me.

Before I said goodbye, I thanked him. He instantly asked what did I do? I said you served our country and fought for our freedom. The emotion he shared at that moment will be a part of me forever. It still gives me goose bumps as I sit and write about it now. These men and women who join the service do not do it anticipating a thank you from us civilians, but rather because something called them to that job.

The honesty in Angel’s eyes touched me in a way I cannot explain. I told him just know that you are appreciated before I shook his hand once again.

Although I will never know what these men and women experienced while they served our country, Wounded Warrior Anglers continously provides me with plenty of opportunities to thank them for what they have done.

Judy and Dave have created something special. Because of this special couple, these men and women’s circle of friends continues to grow, which in itself is a beautiful thing because it is another support system that will be with them forever.

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