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2012 Participant-of-the-Year Awards Presented by Orvis

Posted on 2/4/2013 by

Each year, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing recognizes two participants from each of its 14 regions. The following participants for 2012 have caught the PHWFF vision and made it their own. Congratulations to each of these deserving recipients, and may they have many happy days of fly fishing ahead of them. We also extend a sincere thank you to the Orvis Company for their generous support of PHWFF and our participants by awarding each award recipient one of their Access 5-weight rod and reel combos.


 National Capital Area

Valerie Takesue
US Army Major Valerie Takesue grew up in Mendham Township, N.J. and Easton, CT.  She originally joined the US Army in 1986. She was trained as a Voice Interceptor before she went back to college and joined ROTC. Major Takesue came back onto active duty and served as a Chemical and Military Intelligence Officer in Germany, Italy, Hungary, Bahrain, Qatar, Korea, Fort Lewis, and Fort Meade. Major Takesue deployed twice, once to Italy in support of Operations Joint Guard, Joint Forge, and Allied Force and once to Iraq. She now is at Fort Meade in the Warrior Transition Unit.  Her awards include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Kosovo Campaign Medal, and numerous others. Participating in PHWFF's Fort Meade program for two years, Takesue has come a long way from catching her first trout in March 2012. Her eagerness to learn and advance landed her a coveted slot in the 2012 2-Fly Tournament where she was recognized for catching the largest fish and she demostrated her mastery of fly fishing and fly tying at the Stars and Stripers event where she was honored again for catching the largest fish on a fly. Her enthusiasm for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is contagious and she is regularly recruiting new participants for the Fort Meade, MD program.

Robert Sweeney
Bob joined us at Fort Belvoir in January, 2012. In the Army, he was a team leader for a bomb disposal unit. He was a regular at our weekly meetings until June when he started an internship. He still joined our meetings when he could and participated in our monthly trips. Bob had never fly fished when he came to PHWFF. He loved to fish but was a spin fisherman. He enjoyed all aspects of fly fishing and built a rod as one of his first activities in PHWFF. He progressed in his casting thanks to Curt Boatman and Mark Pierce, our casting instructors. He participated in the Mossy Creek Invitational even though his shoulder was still painful from April surgery and he went on a national trip to Alaska in August.

Not only did Bob Sweeney participate regularly, he recruited other soldiers to join our PHWFF activities and he thanked us regularly for helping him and for what we do for the soldiers. He is highly respected by his fellow soldiers and keeps in touch with PHWFF friends who have left the Army. Bob will be leaving the Army due to his injuries. Whether he stays in the area or moves to his home in West Virginia, he plans to stay involved in PHWFF as much as he can.

In summary, Bob Sweeney is an older, quiet guy who leads by example. His word is his bond. He doesn’t talk about doing things, he just does them. Until his internship, he was a regular at Fort Belvoir PHWFF meetings and encouraged others to join us and enlisted his cousin as a PHWFF volunteer in North Carolina. He has learned to cast, tie flies, and build a rod and he always thanks the volunteers for their help and time. He is a quality person who will be a good ambassador/advocate for PHWFF.

New England Region

Douglas Medina
Doug Medina is an Army veteran who is service-connected disabled but without service in a combat zone.  He has participated regularly and actively in PHWFF for three years, has built and entered a rod in the fly rod building competition and has been on several overnight trips with the Togus group in Maine.  He was chosen to represent Togus VA Maine HCS at the 2011 Golden Age Games, which prevented him from going on a PHWFF national trip this year.

Doug is pleasant and courteous, and quietly participates in group activities while keeping an eye out for someone who is having trouble starting a tying thread or finding hackle pliers somewhere in the room.  He is very dependable and always ready to help with advice or a helping hand.  He makes good recommendations to the Program Lead about activities and how they could be better presented.

He is well liked and gets along with the other veterans in the group and his kindly, non-confrontational, and mature manner helps him relate especially well to new members and those with insecurity and PTSD issues.

The selection of Doug as Participant-of-the-Year has been confirmed by a poll of volunteer leaders and three prior winners who all spontaneously named Doug as their first choice for this year's award.

David Nevedomsky
Dave Nevedomsky is an Army veteran who was wounded in Vietnam and who since has incurred additional service-connected disabling conditions.  An avid fisherman all his life, he was referred to PHWFF in 2010 and has been a regular participant ever since joining in the 2011 fly rod building contest.  He has gone on overnight trips in Maine, and, this past summer, on the PHWFF national trip to the Big Horn River and Little Bighorn Battlefield. 

 When he first joined PHWFF at Togus, Dave was withdrawn and closed off and had PTSD-related anger issues which he did not act upon inappropriately, but which caused him to withdraw from the group or drop out of activities before his anger showed.  He made slow but steady progress with his emotional issues, many of which stem from chronic pain.  A dramatic change was apparent when he participated in the 2011 fly rod building contest.  He became enthused about finishing and entering his own rod and was a big help to others in the group as they completed theirs.  He eagerly served as an assistant instructor for new rod builders in 2012.  He also joined a group of regulars building rods on bamboo blanks at the home of TU volunteer Don Taylor and on the trip that group took to the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum. 

 Dave has been a slow bloomer but, especially since he went on the Big Horn trip this past spring, he has become a leader among the veterans.  He sincerely expresses his gratitude for what Project Healing Waters has done for him and he is among the first to volunteer in anything "that will help a fellow vet" as he explains it.

Mid-South Region

David Frady
David Frady joined the Asheville Project Healing Waters Program in the spring of 2010.  He quickly asserted himself as a quick learning and an eager supporter of his fellow participants.  His fly tying skills have allowed him to mentor many new program members and in 2013 he will be taking additional leadership responsibilities for the fly tying classes at the Asheville NC VA Medical Center.   

David is an Army Veteran having served from 1989-1992 as part of the Desert Storm Campaign.  Due to his commitment and dedication to the PHWFF ideals David has been award this year’s Participant-of-the-Year Award for the Mid-South Region.  

Joe Provens
For the work he has done to establish a PHWFF program in the Fort Bragg/Fayetteville Region, Joe Provens has been chosen as Mid-South  Participant-of-the-Year.  Joe is an Army Veteran who was stationed at Fort Bragg and settled in the Fayetteville area. 

We first met Joe at the Raleigh Fly Fishing Show this past February where we talked about the benefits of Project Healing Waters.  Joe was very interested, but the closest program at the time was in Wilmington. Joe would make the two hour ride to Wilmington as often as he could to join in our activities and learn more about our program.  

After an initial meeting, Joe and Chris Tripoli, another vet in the Fayetteville area, became friends. Over the next six months there were many phone calls, emails, and meetings in preparation for the inaugural meeting.  The first official PHWFF meeting was held October 20th at Gander Mountain.  It was well attended by Fayetteville and Fort Bragg area veterans, as well as several veterans from the Wilmington program.  Joe also arranged a demonstration meeting at the Fayetteville VA Hospital, which the veterans and staff really enjoyed. A second meeting was held at the John E. Pechmann Center in Fayetteville.  Joe was presented an Orvis Access 9 ft, 5 wt. outfit at that meeting.  Future meetings and fly fishing trips are in the works.

The Virginias Region

Chuck Holley
Chuck has been a willing participant of all things offered since the beginning of the Huntington program two years ago.   He is always on time and, in many cases, well before the sessions start. 

Chuck is a very keen participant, asking questions and taking part in all things, more than to willing help others during the sessions. 

He participated in the Yellowstone Slough Creek national trip and developed a slide show of the trip.  Chuck always supports the Program Lead when asked.


John Paramore
John has been a willing participant in all things offered at the McGuire program for two years.   He is always on time and, in many cases, well before the sessions start.  He is a very keen participant, asking questions and taking part in all things, more than willing to help others during the sessions.  He supports the Program Lead when asked. 

John handles the e- mail group addresses for the PL.  This includes the participants as well as volunteers.  Additionally, he has developed a Facebook page for the McGuire program. 

He participates in fly shows, CFC events and other fund raising events since joining the program.  His wife has provided home-baked cookies for fund raising at the local Bass Pro Shop. 

John was recently appointed to the national PHWFF Veterans Advisory Council.  He has fished the 2 Fly event as well as attended National trips.


 Deep South

Dennis Cooper
Dennis has successfully completed the eight-week PHWFF Introduction to Fly Fishing and Fly Tying instructional program that was presented at a local college this summer.  He has eagerly continued ongoing therapy with our fly fishing and fly tying programs and has joined the Panhandle Fly Fishers of Destin in an effort to learn more about the craft.  He will be the lead fisherman in our PHWFF fishing trip next month.

 Matt McNerney
Matt McNerney is a disabled Marine who served from 1992 to 1996.  He is a proficient fly fisherman and fly tier, with most of his experience in saltwater.  Currently he is a full-time member of the Daytona VA Wellness Recovery Center program and attends college classes part time.   

Matt promotes PHWFF to other vets, doctors and staff at the VA facilities where he receives care.  He has been an active instructor for fly tying in the Daytona PHWFF program and has started one of his fellow vets on building a fly rod.  Matt also fills in as a substitute Program Lead during the snowbird season.


 Heartland Region

John Edmond
Due to work commitments early this year, the Program Lead of John’s program could no longer be available every Wednesday at the VA for the fly tying and rod building classes.  John took his place and the program continued without a hitch. As there are no facilities for applying and curing the flex coat at the VA, John took it on himself to do this at home.  John did a highly professional job and, for every hour at the VA, will have spent another ten at home during the time between the vets completing their rods and the presentation ceremony where they were gratefully received.  John has been representing PWHFF at our local fly club meetings and outings and would be a worthy recipient of this award.

Dan Butler
Dan Butler, a disabled veteran himself, has been helping out the Leavenworth PHWFF program since its inception three years ago.  Dan has been the most active volunteer for the Leavenworth program, conducting fly tying and casting classes and helping vets at numerous fishing trips.   Dan is one of the most patient instructors.  Dan’s understanding and positive nature makes him one of the vets’ favorite tying and casting instructors.  His vast experience and expertise fly fishing insures all of the vets he works with on the fishing trips catch fish and have a great time.  

Southwest Region

Gary Powell & Mike Escarcida
Vietnam veterans Gary Powell and Mike Escarcida joined the Long Beach PHWFF program in January 2012, and started with rod building.  Both were enthusiastic participants from the beginning.  They were, frankly, amazing at fly fishing shows and fundraisers in terms of representing PHWFF to the public and soliciting donations.  Both helped at the Pasadena Fly Fishing Show, the Fred Hall 5-day show in Long Beach and the Breathless Agony cycling event to raise money for PHWFF.  In addition, Gary and his wife Virginia, a PHWFF volunteer, represented PHWFF at Big Mike’s Saltwater fundraiser.   

When volunteers were requested to go to the American Fly Fishing Trade Association convention in Reno, both Gary and Mike volunteered to go to represent PHWFF national.  This wasn’t a fly fishing trip or fun event, but they went because we needed veteran participants there to tell their story.  By all accounts, they did a fine job.   

It’s always such a pleasure to watch veteran participants evolve into fine representatives of our organization, willing to give back, and help with recruiting and fundraising.   These two men are great representatives of PHWFF.


 Rocky Mountain Region

Gary Fitzgerald
Gary Fitzgerald, a Marine with two deployments to Iraq, has been battling emotional war wounds.  There have been major improvements in Gary’s ability to rehabilitate since he entered the PHWFF Program.  Gary is passionate about fly-fishing and fly- tying.  This new sport for him serves as his “anchor” for reality in the non-combat world.   

Gary works on a ranch in Judith Gap Montana, and gets out fishing as often as he can with the PHWFF group or on his own in the many local streams in the Judith Gap area.  Gary has access to fishing equipment that he borrows, but having his own rod and reels will fill a void and let him take one more step forward with fly fishing and recovery.  He serves as a local spokesman for PHWFF in the rural area around Judith Gap.  This helps our program reach out to other veterans and supporters of our program that serves a large community spread out over many miles.  He has taken the initiative to become a passionate participant, and helps the program through his contacts in the outlying areas.


 Miles Stanley
It was a wonderful early Christmas on December 21 for Miles Stanley as he was presented the Rocky Mountain Region’s 2012 Participant-of-the-Year Award.  Miles was overwhelmed with the generous gift from the Orvis Company of a complete “Access” fly rod and reel outfit.  The surprise presentation to Miles took place with Charlie Hensel, Program Lead for the Grand Junction program, Ryan Keyes, VA Recreation Therapist, and Miles’ service dog “Gage” present.  

Miles Stanley is a disabled Army Veteran and has been an active participant of the Grand Junction PHWFF program for the last two years.  Two years ago, Miles had difficulty participating in the program due to his TBI and associated mental health issues.  PHWFF volunteers came across many “road blocks” when teaching Miles beginner fly fishing and fly tying skills.  These issues did not deter Miles from participation - they only motivated him to look past his physical and emotional deficits and relearn a sport he truly loved prior to his injury.  “Gage,” Miles’ service dog, has grown with us as well and eagerly looks forward to fishing outings, including float trips. 

Miles has allowed many PHWFF volunteers the opportunity to work with him directly and thus taught us to think “outside of the box.”   He has taught us that there are numerous ways to teach a skill which in turn helps us grow as fly fishers and teachers.  Both parties have grown stronger together which allows us to have confidence when teaching new veterans with disabilities similar to Miles’.  As of today, Miles is an active participant in the Veteran Fly Fishing Club.   Although not a completely independent fly fisher, he is able to fly fish with minimal support from others.  Miles has instilled confidence in other veteran club members, which has allowed other volunteers to take him fishing outside of PHWFF’s regularly scheduled programming.

 Western NY/PA Region

 James Trembath

Roberto Cezerez
This year’s Participant-of-the-Year Award in the Western New York Western Pennsylvania Region goes to Roberto Ceseraz of Batavia, New York.  Roberto served in Afghanistan where he was injured by an IED.  He wears sun glasses, not due to the bright sun, but because of his injury.

Roberto had fly fished before but found Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing was exactly what he needed. In a short time he has become an avid fly fisher and demonstrates a genuine enthusiasm for our sport. Congratulations, Roberto!


Northwest Region

Jason Turner 
Jason Turner, JT, is an awesome person.  During the past 13 years in the Army, he has been deployed several times to the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and has sustained injuries as a result.  Upon his last return, he was assigned to the WTU in January 2011 and joined the PHWFF tying sessions.  JT loves tying flies as well as fishing.  His nickname among other PHWFF participants is “Fish Magnet” because he usually catches the first fish and the most fish.  All participants like to go fishing with him because they enjoy his company.  JT shares his fishing passion with other participants and is an excellent role model for younger service personnel.  

He is unique because he is passing his passion on to his children.  He brings his two oldest daughters (ages six and eight) to most of the tying sessions and he frequently takes them fishing.  During the summer of 2011, JT fished often and loved it.  During the past year, his combat related injuries necessitated numerous weekly medical appointments, which required his wife’s, Sarah, presence.  With four children and limited babysitting options and uncertain weekly schedules, JT and Sarah opted to home school their children.  Therefore, when JT goes someplace, the whole family goes.  During 2012, JT participated in only three PHWFF trips and some of the tying sessions due to his deteriorating medical condition and the fact that he is now in a wheelchair.  Despite these circumstances, he maintains a positive attitude and focuses on the future, especially the future of his family.  The family bond and dynamics are truly heart-warming; these parents work as a team to overcome ALL obstacles.

Vinnie Bellisaro
Vinnie is soon to be medically retired for injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He has become a big supporter of our program and a big help during every event we conduct.  He is also an accomplished tier and caster, and is quick to offer advice to his fellow soldiers.   

Vinnie recently went on a PHWFF trip to Montana and took another soldier with him for the week-long trip.  He also wrote an article for us and included numerous pictures for the trip. When he retires, Vinnie is planning to move to Florida and open his own fly fishing business. 

Mid-Atlantic Region

Frankie Page
The Participant of the Year Award 2012 was presented to Frankie Page who joined our program last year. She started attending casting sessions in Central Park and then indoors at the gym, but remained quiet and somewhat removed. Being one of the few women among a group of men who had been involved with PHWFF-NYC activities for several years was a bit intimidating. Nevertheless, she signed up for our first outing of the spring, our annual trip to the West Branch Angler on the upper Delaware last April. On this great river and in a comfortable fishing lodge, Frankie came into her own. Treated with respect as a veteran and as an individual, Frankie fell in love with fly fishing during this trip. She confided that in the beginning, she was uncertain if a program like PHWFF was right for her; she had no background in fishing and is an "urban" woman. However, the unpressured camaraderie and emphasis on developing her skills and understanding of fly fishing, along with the characteristic of our PHWFF activities, captivated her. She has and is expanding active recruitment of additional women to participate in the Brooklyn VA program and is evolving into a graceful angler.

David Ira Strouse
David “Ira” Strouse has been a member of the Fort Drum Program for a few years now. He started as one of the most dedicated /active members taking part in every weekly meeting, learning to cast as well as tie. His ability came together earlier this year when he was chosen to attend the PHWFF outing to Alaska. Ira has taken on more of a leadership role within the program this year and he served as our point of contact during the Salmon River Event in the fall.


 Tennessee Valley Region

Dustin Fleenor
Dustin Fleenor is an army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Dustin started with Project Healing Waters in July of 2011.  Since that time he has taken his love of fly fishing to a whole new level.  Dustin helps teach fly tying and fly casting at our weekly meetings.  In addition, he helps organize outings and serves as a guide on outings.  Dustin's true passion is helping his fellow veterans through Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.  Additionally, Dustin was named assistant program lead for the Johnson City program.


 Arnulso Patino
Arnulso Patino is a veteran with 8 years of service in the US Marine Corps, having served in the Iraqi Freedom campaign.  Arnulso's interest in PHWFF began in November 2011 when he and a fellow veteran stopped by the PHWFF booth at the Nashville Veterans’ Day parade.  With no previous experience in fly fishing, he quickly became very involved in the program.  He enjoys helping his fellow veterans in fly tying, casting and helping out in the water, and can always be counted on to help out on outings and at local fund raising events.  Arnulso is a great asset to PHWFF and is well deserving of receiving the Participant-of-the-Year Award for the TN Valley Region.




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Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings.

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