There was a casting call of sorts last May in the hills outside Loveland Colorado, a picturesque location with beautiful hills, a meandering river, lakes and a river full of huge fish, and a ranch house straight out of the Wild West.
Just as I arrived a couple dozen horses ran past. They were beautiful. The location for this great adventure was the Sylvan Dale guest ranch.
The stars began to arrive just after 4 PM and included a wide array of characters, among them, a nuclear scientist, a golfer, an athlete, a young father, and many more. There was also one man who, for medical reasons, had been confined to his house for the last 7 months.
The director was a guy that looked like he had just rode in on his horse, aged sweat beads ringing his well worn cowboy hat. His looks would make you think he was a tough guy, but he showed great compassion. He also had a small group of men with him that would help get things started. And there were lots of others heading that way that would arrive the next morning.
This scene was called ‘Reel Recovery’ and it had been written at this location several years earlier and plays out dozens of times a year all over the country. It’s a scene that has and will continue to live itself out in the lives of men all over the U.S.
Each of the men called to participate here in Colorado had something in common. They all had been in a doctor’s office and had their life’s forever branded with the word that brings to reality the mortality of our human existence. Each had been diagnosed with cancer.
I am a member of that brotherhood. I had a chance to experience Reel Recovery just four months earlier near
This is the story of how I came to find myself in Colorado helping with a Reel Recovery retreat.
After returning home in late March of 2012 from the retreat I participated in, I found myself wanting to help. It was a soul stirring desire. I knew I had a week of vacation available. I checked the website, reelrecovery.org and found they had a retreat scheduled in May.
My heart was filled with a desire to help, but also with the question of what could I do? I was not qualified or trained to be a retreat director or facilitator. I had just started fly fishing so heaven help anyone that would be buddied up with me.
When I find myself in this kind of situation, I pray for guidance. It didn’t take long for me to get an answer.
So I set out on my Journey. I gave it a lot of thought and the one skill I have is photography. I got in touch with the staff I knew in Ft Worth. They got me in touch with Stan Golub. He liked the idea. After talking with other staff I was invited to photograph the retreat.
I got a discount airline ticket and negotiated a great deal to stay at the ranch in a private lodge. I can’t thank Lois and the rest of the staff at the ranch for being so accommodating.
My wife and I not wealthy, so this was a huge leap of faith for us. We sent our friends a note letting them know of the opportunity. One person made a contribution to help offset the cost. In the end God blessed us with an abundance of overtime when I returned home that more than covered the cost of the trip. It was something I will never regret doing.
What I didn’t realize was I was going back to where it all began. I stood in the stream where the idea for Reel Recovery was conceived. I sat and listened to participants in the room where some men got together and formulated a plan to make Reel recovery happen. This was the place it all began. I had no idea, when I left for Colorado.
On a bright sunny May afternoon at the Sylvan Dale Ranch, the next retreat was about to start. Constant shutter clicks were heard as the men (participants & staff) met for first time. There were 12 men who were starting a new adventure.
The first night was a chance for staff and participants to get to know each other. The stories of men with cancer are stories of sadness, hope, pain, loneliness, compassion, love, and courage. Each guy has a great story and each guy has his own way that he is courageous.
To be able to sit and listen to each of these men get a chance to voice their thoughts and concerns was a real honor. You get to know them a lot better when you stop and listen. By the time we went to dinner, friendships between the men had already started.
Of the 3 days we were together, the next day, a Thursday was my favorite. It started with temps in the 50’s and it turned into a beautiful sunny day.
I don’t think you could have asked for better weather.
To those of you that don’t know, there is a tradition that is shared on the first full day together. It’s a tradition that honors those men who have gone before. Wondering down to the meeting area, I found John (from Georgia) assembling all the fishing rods. He was joined
This was the first chance for me to meet some of the Colorado ‘buddies’. After 3 days of being around them, I felt truly honored to meet them. The participants would later share that the ‘buddies’ were a big part of what made the retreat so special. I know that was so true for me as well about the guys who were buddies in Glen Rose. So as one of the men who has benefited first hand from your gift, Thank You, to all the buddies who have ever helped.
The participants were paired up with their new buddies and off they went.
My first experience with a Colorado River was when I found one of the guys and couldn’t get a decent shot from the bank. Seeing some of the buddies in shorts and boots, I decided to wade on in wearing shorts and boots. By the time I got to the guys, my feet were ice cubes. By the end of the day though, I was accustomed to the cold.
Being able to see, firsthand, the interactions between the buddies and the participants was so cool. These guys (buddies) were so compassionate, patient, and friendly.
It’s hard to explain, but I witnessed some greatest moments that day. One was the first time I caught on camera a guy catching
As far as helping with the fishing, these guys were so good, just like the buddies in Texas. It was great to see so many guys catching a fish. The ranch is huge and I was constantly racing off to find another participant.
I had some amusing experiences. As I stepped out of my cabin from downloading images, I looked down and saw a guy in the river with a fish on. From high up on the hill I got some great shots of his catch. It was a scene repeated 2 or 3 more times. That night as we sat around he commented to the group that “there was this guy and every time he showed up I caught a fish”. Sitting off on the side, I just grinned.
One of the things that I was able to do was meet some of the guys early one morning and do a portrait shoot. I got some cool pictures.
Something I didn’t know about was the staff meeting at the end of each day. Let me just say it’s cool being a part of the inner workings behind the scenes. You really get to know the guys who give so much of themselves to make all this happen.
Another thing I found out was the incredible selfless service that Debbie M., in Texas, provides to the organization. Each week, she keeps 4 sets of gear for 13 guys moving across the country in addition to all her other responsibilities. At the end of each retreat, all the wet gear is shipped back to her. Think about it. 2-3 days in transit, it gets pretty stinky. She unpacks it all, cleans it all, and gets it ready to go back out. It always arrives clean and ready to go. She has another set in route, and another she cleans and gets ready for another retreat. She’s amazing.
Being a volunteer at a Reel Recovery retreat is something not everyone gets to do and I understand that. I am so thankful that I was given this opportunity. Being a part of Reel Recovery and making this whole thing possible for men with cancer is something everyone can do. It can be as simple as making a donation (keep in mind some employers like mine match charitable giving) or maybe you can just tell a friend or family member about Reel Recovery.
I got to see how a dozen men found friendship and hope at a ranch in Colorado and in the streams of a Colorado river. I got to see how another group of men found out they’re not alone in their struggle. I got to be a part of a life changing experience. Thanks to all the participants, volunteers and staff.
Be well and Fish On – Harry Molder