WASHINGTON - Saturday's sunny skies and favorable weather made it a great day to go fishing. But the day was about so much more than fishing at the "Reel American Heroes" event that reached out to wounded service members.
On Saturday, the third annual "Reel American Heroes" fishing tournament was held at Hope Springs Marina in Stafford, Va.
Ron DeFreitas started the non-profit "Reel American Heroes" as a way to provide some recreational therapy for U.S. wounded warriors. DeFreitas works with area military hospitals and military bases to take wounded warriors out fishing.
"We actually had boaters come in from seven different states to take these warriors out," he says. DeFreitas says 67 boaters (all volunteers) teamed up with 68 wounded heroes for the tournament.
The service members were paired up with a professional angler during the tournament.
"A lot of times the fishing is not what they're here for," DeFreitas says. "They're here to unwind and realize that there are people who care for them."
Garrett Jones was one of the wounded heroes who competed in the tournament. He retired from the Marines six years ago after he lost his leg in Iraq. He, his wife and 2-year-old son live in Stafford along with his service dog named Cole. Jones admits it's been a bit of a journey since being wounded.
"Sometimes it feels like yesterday and other days it seems like it was another whole life ago," Jones says. "We're good. So, I can't complain."
He says the tournament was not about winning.
"No, I didn't care about that at all," Jones says adding he came to support other warriors. In the process, he made a new friend in Michael Lake.
Lake and Jones were teammates during the competition. Lake towed his boat from Florida so he could help out the wounded warriors.
Lake is with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service based at its Southeast field office in Jacksonville, Fla. He's been deployed four times to Iraq with NCIS' Contingency Response Office. But meeting Jones and getting to spend the day on the water with him was "an inspiring experience," he says.
Lake came to help out the warriors and he ended up leaving with a full heart.
"It was very humbling," he says.
Ron Eshleman, who towed his boat from Lancaster County, Pa., to Stafford., says it was an emotional day.
"I think I cried more today than the day my daughter was born," Eshleman says.
Eshleman says he wanted to take his best friend, Walter Brallier, out on the water for the competition. Brallier is a wounded warrior who lost his leg in Vietnam.
"It was an awesome day. I just love him," Brallier says of his friend.
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