“It was grand”

The 2nd annual Redfish Poker Fishing Championship, in memory of Sgt. John R. Pestel, was a huge success for the nonprofit organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers, this past Memorial Day weekend.

“I think it was grand,” Judy Souders, co-founder of Wounded Warrior Anglers said after the event. “The tournament was 100 percent successful. It raised good money for Wounded Warrior Anglers and that’s why we did the tournament.”

20142ndannual1a-2Dave Souders, also co-founder of the organization, said 23 boats and 11 kayakers participated in the Saturday, May 24, tournament.

Although this year’s tournament included seven more kayakers, the number of boats decreased by six. David said the decrease really did not affect the success of the tournament, due to the interest in the silent and live auctions and 50/50 raffles.

“I think everybody had a great time and really loved the event,” Dave said.

The event kicked off with a captain’s meeting the night before, which he said went pretty smooth without any problems, as the anglers learned all the specifics of the tournament at Beef O’ Brady’s in Cape Coral

The following morning the anglers arrived at their destinations with the  same thought in mind – claiming one of the first place prizes by catching the biggest red and the redfish with the most spots.

The photo and release tournament required the anglers to take a photograph of their catch on an approved measuring board. Those photographs were then brought back to the Olde Fish House Marina for weigh in that Saturday afternoon.

The boat division was won by JBA Construction Jeff Asbury, who claimed $1,000. The first place kayak division winner was Jeff Gabrick who won $500 cash.

The calcutta winner was the Dirt Necks, who claimed $2,000.

Caleb Smith also walked away from the tournament with some additional funds in his pocket. He won $600 for the most spots calcutta and $100 as the 16 and under winner.

Caleb, 10, who goes out fishing pretty much every weekend, said catching the fish was his favorite part of the tournamnet.

“We went to different spots and went red fishing,” the youngster said during the tournament.

Caleb also said it was exciting winning $700.

Throughout the day, five bands donated their time and talent, to bring some music to the event. Not Guilty, Grayson Rodgers, Sticky Revenge, Wild Caught and Bonham528 kept the crowd entertained from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“The bands were incredible,” Judy said.

The second annual boat raffle was also deemed a success, due to the organization selling out of all 3,000 tickets by 12:30 p.m. the day of the tournament.

This year’s boat was a 2014 NauticStar 2110 Sport Bay with 115hp Yamaha four-stroke and trailer.

The lucky ticket holder was announced at 7 p.m. at the Olde Fish House Marina on May 24.  Bill Swartzwelder of Cape Coral, Florida, became the owner of the brand new NauticStar. He said he plans on letting Asbury use the boat to take individuals out on the water.

Next year’s boat raffle, Dave said, may possibly increase to 5,000 tickets, which will provide more individuals with the opportunity to donate to the organization.

The organization is seeking a boat manufacture who would like to donate a boat to the cause, to provide the organization with the opportunity to put more funds into the organization, and therefore help more wounded warriors and their caregivers.

Judy said overall the day was awesome.

“The weather was beautiful, the volunteers were awesome,” she said. “The people that came were awesome, they gave, they were pleasant.”

Judy said it amazes her how the wounded warriors come out and work with each other and stand up for their brotherhood.

Tate Hutchinson, a board member of Wounded Warrior Anglers, had the opportunity to attend this year’s tournament.

“It was great,” he said of his experience. “It was very inspirational and it was nice to see the community come together for the veterans.”

Before the day concluded May 24, approximately 500 people stopped by the Olde Fish House Marina to support the organization Wounded Warrior Anglers.

Approximately $12,500 was raised during the 2nd annual tournament, which will help the organization fulfill their mission of helping our wounded warriors and their caregivers.

The 3rd annual Redfish Poker Fishing Championship has already been set for the Saturday before Memorial Day in 2015.

Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc. was founded in 2012 by Dave and his wife Judy. Its mission is to “help rehabilitate the mind, body and soul of all service members who have been injured, wounded or disabled in the line of duty no matter what their era of service.”

The organization helps its warriors by taking them out on the water for a day of fishing. This outing helps promote a friendly and peaceful environment to help warriors heal.

Wounded Warrior Anglers also help the warrior’s caregivers by treating them to a day of relaxation at Spa 33 in Matlacha, Florida.

For more information, visit http://woundedwarrioranglers.org/

To view more blogs about this organization, visit https://meghan80.wordpress.com/wounded-warrior-anglers-of-america-inc/

A year of changing lives

June 1 marked the one year anniversary for Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, a nonprofit organization that is changing the lives of our service men and women and their caregivers.

I had the honor of meeting Dave for the first time last June at an event held in Matlacha, FL. His vision and excitement for an organization that is near and dear to his heart poured out of him as he told me what his mission was and what he hoped to accomplish.

battle of matlachaAn excerpt from my blog “Hearts of Gold” . . .

The concept of the organization formed after David was injured in 2008 while he was in the service. The serenity of fishing, along with his wife Judy, helped him get through the difficult times during his injury and healing process.

Dave served in the Marines from 1985-1992, before going into the reserves from 1992-1995. He then served in the Air National Guard in 2006 and medically retired on May 31, 2012. In 2008, he was injured while in the service.

Military life runs very deep in this gentleman’s family, due to members of his family serving since the Revolutionary War.

His love of fishing and passion for helping others turned into something bigger while he was rehabbing himself through injury. Dave always says since he is out on the water fishing, why not bring other wounded warriors with him to share the sense of relaxation and escape from every and any stressor that goes hand-in-hand with an injury.

End of excerpt … which was written on Jan. 4.

Soon after meeting Dave, I met his wife Judy on another assignment where a lifelong friendship instantly formed.

This woman has been Dave’s caretaker for more than 20 years, which in itself is a beautiful thing.

I have experienced so many great moments, so many great conversations and met so many incredible wounded warriors and their caregivers since that initial conversation with the co-founders. My life has become enriched in numerous ways, all because I am a part of an organization that does so much for others.

Now looking back, I am proud to say I have experienced almost every step of the way during this past year with the co-founders of this wonderful organization. Their “hearts of gold” are constantly forming new ides to continue to help these men and women who have kept us safe while serving in one of the branches of our military.

I remember receiving a phone call from Judy many months ago sharing an exciting phone call Dave received out of the blue. That phone call led to a very special day for this couple last week.

A tremendous contribution was given to this organization a day before their first year anniversary, so Judy and Dave can further help those in need.

Wounded Warrior Anglers Member Guy Lee, Caregiver Rosa Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Angel Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder David Souders, Seafarers International Union Port Agent Kris Hopkins, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder Judy Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Board Member Tony “The Judge” Rogers.

Wounded Warrior Anglers Member Guy Lee, Caregiver Rosa Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Angel Vazquez, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder David Souders, Seafarers International Union Port Agent Kris Hopkins, Wounded Warrior Anglers Co-Founder Judy Souders, Wounded Warrior Anglers Board Member Tony “The Judge” Rogers.

Seafarers International Union Port Agent Kris Hopkins donated $20,000 to Wounded Warrior Anglers, funds collected from a tournament they held at their school in Maryland earlier this year.I decided to call Kris, so I could interview him for an article I was working on for the Eagle. I wanted to share with the entire community what took place at the Olde Fish House Marina on Friday.

A quote that stood out to me during our interview, one that I included in the article . . .

“I think it is important that we recognize the people that have served our country and became injured and critically disabled,” Hopkins said. “It is important that we give back to them.”

This donation, this generous offer, all came about because Seafarers International Union Executive Board Member George Tricker decided to make Wounded Warrior Anglers the recipient of the inaugural event.

Dave and Judy said they were initially excited because Seafarers International Union wanted to include some of their wounded warriors in the tournament – a day for these men and women to spend out on the water fishing.

Never in their wildest dreams did they expect to receive a donation, let alone a donation of that magnitude.

When I talked to Judy and Dave Saturday they were still speechless from the donation.

“We still are really overwhelmed with the generosity of what these folks have done for the origination,” Judy said in a quote that was added in the Pine Island Eagle article.

Judy and Dave’s voices were filled with so much emotion and pure joy . . . Although we were not talking face-to-face, I could hear the smilies spread across their faces, the smile that remained during our entire conversation.

This donation will only help them further serve the wounded warriors and caregivers during their retreat. The money will allow them to continue to buy rods and reels, a gift to the men and women to take home once they are done with their fishing outing, as well as covering the cost of housing while they are in town.

The Warrior and Caregiver Retreat is a beautiful event that brings together individuals while treating them to a stress free day. My heart is always filled with extreme joy after attending one of these functions because of the laughter, conversations and friendships that are formed.

I truly look forward to witnessing what transpires during the Wounded Warrior Anglers second year, especially now that I am a board member. It’s amazing to be a part of something that is incredibly special, something that brings so much joy to an individuals life who has suffered so much while keeping us safe.

Here is too many more years of helping others and expanding this wonderful organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers.

“Changing lives one warrior at a time.”

For more information visit http://www.woundedwarrioranglers.org.

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.