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Fly fishing program serves those who served our country with healing

Two veterans from North Carolina find peace from PTSD within the fish filled rivers of South Mountain. They are part of Project Healing Waters, a nationwide non-profit organization that provides recovery for those who served our country through the art of fly fishing.

Andie Judson

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Published: 9:48 AM EDT July 21, 2017
Updated: 7:28 AM EDT July 24, 2017

BURKE COUNTY, N.C. -- One humid day in July, Shawn Justice and Calvin Norton made their way down a dirt path at South Mountain State Park. Both seem cautious in nature, their eyes surveying the 360 degrees of thick, green brush surrounding them.

Unbeknownst to the naked eye, the two men are both veterans, having sacrificed far more than the time spent abroad in ravaged war zones.

According to a recent study from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, around 20 veterans die from suicide each day. Although their guns and gear are set down when they return from time served, many soldiers continue to carry the burden of witnessing war. Shawn and Calvin are just two of the many soldiers returning home only to battle a brand new condition in the form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

As the veterans continue along the trail, the sound of what they came for becomes audible: a rushing river. Without even seeing the stream, the water begins to do what it does best on Calvin and Shawn. Their stances become relaxed and the conversation starts to flow as the sound of water washes over them.

“This is like taking a shower, but not getting your body clean, it cleans everything out of you... all the ick, the dirtiness of everything,” Shawn said. “It just washes it off.”

Calvin was sent overseas to serve his country in 1969, while Shawn donned his uniform in 2003. And although the two men are separated by 34 years of service, both bear the scars and raw grit of wartime. Both men seek solace in the same exact sport... looking to find comfort in daily life.

That's where Project Healing Waters comes into play. The non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans overcome the pain of their past through fly-fishing. Volunteers within the program teach veterans how to fly fish, tie flies, and rod building.

The nonprofit has benefitted veterans nationwide but none more than the two putting on their waders and making their way into the rivers of South Mountain.

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