Reeling in Hope
Photography – Casting for Recovery
Interview with Lise Lozole

Fishing is a bonding activity that has been around for a long time. One organization that has a unique purpose for this recreational pursuit is Casting for Recovery, which has served over 10,000 women affected by breast cancer through their weekend retreat program. Now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2021, Casting for Recovery (CfR) has cast its net throughout America, with dozens of retreats available each year. CfR’s marketing manager Lise Lozelle talks about the organization’s mission and its impact.

Tell us how all this started:
Two friends, Dr. Benita Walon, a surgeon, and Gwenn Perrykins Bogart, an angler professional, started it all. They began talking about how gentle casting motions would be beneficial for women recovering after breast cancer surgery or radiation. So, along with some other friends in their community in Vermont, they decided to start a fly-fishing program in 1996 with one retreat. In 2021, we plan to host fifty-two retreats in forty-five states.

CfR originated in Vermont, so how did it end up based in Montana?
[Laughs] Good question. Our former executive director was from Bozeman, Montana. She commuted between Montana and Vermont for her first few years. In the summer of 2017, we made the decision to relocate the office to Bozeman. The Mountain West is America’s epicenter of fly-fishing. Many of our national sponsors also have a base in the area. It was logical to move.

Yet you live in Texas. Is your organization remote?
Since long, we have had a virtual model. My national program director is located here in Austin. We also have three staff members in Vermont: one in Pittsburgh, one Denver, one Wyoming and two Montana. Even though COVID-19 didn’t change our work setup, it changed everything for us because we had a year with no retreats.

That sounds disappointing. What did you do to help these women virtualy?
Three things were accomplished. The first was the Pink Fly Club program, which offered educational outreach videos about nutrition, mindfulness, fly-fishing, and more to our alumnae. We made this a change to keep our alumnae connected and received lots of positive feedback.

We also offered resources and information to women who had applied for a retreat but couldn’t attend due to COVID-19. We kept in touch with them and gave them helpful tools to prepare for the retreat. We also have a partnership with Trout Unlimited, which generously offered a free one-year membership to the women that applied in 2020. This is a great resource as it connects women to local fly-fishing groups where they can learn more about conservation and fly-fishing.

For our volunteer leaders, we created a monthly Facebook Live video series called The Dry Bag. Each month, we choose a topic and give relevant information to assist people with their fundraising and outreach programs.

Who organizes the retreats?
We have an army of over 1,800 volunteers across the country that help run our programs on the ground. We provide resources and training, as well as help with securing retreat locations. All the equipment is provided, including a retreat box that contains everything they need and the curriculum. Every program is unique because each area has its own flavor. However, the take-away is that even though you fish in different waters and the program is run by different volunteers the “magic” of the program is the same.

How long are the retreats? What are they?
They last two and a half days. Retreat leaders lead each retreat. A team of women support the weekend, including anglers and oncology professionals.

Participants arrive on Friday and get comfortable. They learn about fly-fishing basics, entomology and why they fly-fish. A medical talk, lunch, and some light exercise are included. They have dinner later and then an evening circle activity that allows participants to discuss whatever they like. Each woman is paired with a fly-fishing guide and fish on Sunday morning. Many women who have seen A River Runs Through It are hopeful that Brad Pitt will be there to guide them. [Laughs]

It’s always fascinating to see how weekend connections can often become a tight bond and a lifetime friendship. It’s amazing to see how women come in as strangers, and then leave as friends.

What are some other takeaways?
This retreat is for women who are busy caring for others. But it also allows them to form a community that they didn’t necessarily know they needed–interestingly, over 70 percent have never been to a support group before. They now have thirteen other women who understand it. It’s quite powerful.

And we’re really proud of the fact that, going into our twenty-fifth anniversary, we have a 100 percent alumnae referral rate. These women say that although they may never fish again, their fishing day was the best day of their lives. There have been many testimonials that claim it was better than their wedding day or the birth of their children. Many women claim that if they have a bad day, they will think back to the morning on the water. They remember how calm and peaceful it felt and how worry-free they were.

This is one of the best parts about going back to nature. If there’s anything positive,
of COVID-19, it’s that the world has been reminded of the healing power of nature. Many people visit our national parks and enjoy the fresh air, taking in the birds’ chirping, and getting their feet in the grass. It has helped people understand the power behind what we do even though they may not fully grasp fly-fishing.

You also offer specialized retreats. Was that your inspiration?
We are a small non-profit so we can take the feedback from past participants and make changes to the program. Women with advanced breast cancer are our most popular specialty retreat. Women with advanced breast cancer may be reluctant to share their experiences because they fear recurrence. We started a retreat for ten women with metastatic breast carcinoma. It was extremely successful. This retreat is also where I volunteer for CfR in Texas. It may seem strange. The women at that retreat are so positive and energetic, even when they are sick.

We’ve also held retreats for Native American women, and other women of color. We have spent a lot of time trying to reach women who are most in need, well before we are in this cultural moment. For a long time, we’ve been very multi-cultural. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can be counterintuitive to think that fly-fishing is associated with older white men.

What is CfR doing to celebrate twenty-five years? What are you hoping to see in the next twenty-five year?
We will be doing some special things for the twenty fifth, including selling collectible gear and other items. A beautiful coffee table book is being put together that will capture the stunning photography and powerful quotes from the past twenty-five years. We’ll also be running big fundraising campaigns.

Personally, my hope is that CfR continues to thoughtfully grow. We had a goal of serving over 10,000 women, which we met. And I hope that we serve 10,000 more and then some, while offering the same beautiful experiences, staying true to our mission, and maintaining the magic of what CFR provides.

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