I grew up in Maine, fishing its numerous lakes and streams for whatever I could catch – often with a fly rod. It’s amazing how life comes full circle if you let it. Life forms a circle and all action in it is compensatory – any actions we take – good or bad -eventually come back to us – full circle. If you really think about it, each of our lives serve as an apprenticeship to the truth that – no matter the size of it – we can always draw another circle around any other circle; that when you let the circle complete itself – every end is also a beginning. Sometimes we just need to let life take its proper course. Sometimes we need to take a longer view. Sometimes – we have to surrender to something outside ourselves to gain strength within. Sometimes – need to remember that: to fulfill ourselves often, we have to forget ourselves; to find ourselves sometimes we have to first lose ourselves; maintaining our character, our integrity and our moral compass is about confronting life’s disappointments and overcoming them as challenges; we have to give to receive.
Actually, life is often much bigger than we realize, cause and effect combine in a vast moral structure that keeps pushing us to do better, to become better – even when we dwell in the most powerful, confused darkness. Often our biggest failures can lead us to our greatest successes in life, which is humility and learning.
Sometimes we forget this, and when we do – well – we lose our way. Sometimes we lack the strength and the willpower to pick ourselves up and return to the fray. That’s when we need help to find what we need to get back home – to help us to ask ourselves the right questions…..Not – What do I want from life?; But – What does life want from me?; And – What are my circumstances in life calling me to do for others? The answer to these three questions can provide us with a summons to life. They can point us towards our vocation, our calling…if we let them.
I was wounded several times in 2004 fighting alongside my men in Iraq during the Second Battle of Fallujah. The end result for me was multiple Traumatic Brain Injuries as well as a long list of orthopedic and balance issues from exposure to numerous explosions and from fighting in close quarters with the enemy. I also commanded thousands of men in combat – 22 of them were killed in action and more than 300 were wounded. As I struggled to deal with the effects of my wounds and the war over the past decade their symptoms progressively got worse – requiring extensive physical therapy and recently culminated in my medical retirement after 31 years as a U.S. Marine.
Fortunately, in April 2015, during a physical therapy appointment, my vision therapist recommended fly fishing as an option to my clinical regimen. That’s how I got connected to Project Healing Waters. I began my relationship with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing in a participant in their program located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Our program met weekly at the USO located near the Intrepid Spirit Clinic on Fort Belvoir where I attended my daily physical therapy sessions. The camaraderie, mentoring, and friendships only added to their exceptional core program. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing provides disabled veterans with a core fly fishing program at more than 212 locations across the country.
Their core program includes fly tying, fly fishing education, fly fishing outings, and – my personal favorite – fly rod building. The fly rod building program is a nationwide effort – funded by a very generous grant from the Bob Woodruff Foundation – that culminates in a competition between the best fly rods built by participants across the nation for the year.
I built my first Fly Rod as a participant in 2016. Building a fly rod helped me in several ways with my rehabilitation. The camaraderie of sitting around a table with good friends completing a project I’ve never done before – together – helped restore my spirit. The concentration and focus necessary to work through the small details involved in something I’ve never done before – building a fly rod – helped improve my concentration and information processing. Catching a fish on a fly rod that I built myself…. priceless!!
Becoming a Project Healing Waters participant was the best thing I did to start to accept and build the strength it took to try to recover from my physical and emotional injuries. Project Healing Waters served this function for me and it does the same for thousands of other wounded, ill, and injured active duty military and disabled veterans in more than 200 programs Nationwide. As a participant in its program I experienced it and saw it with my own eyes – over and over again. Now, as its Chief Executive Officer I see it even more!!!
It’s about fly fishing – but it isn’t…
Project Healing Waters’ wisdom enabled me to see life from a wider perspective. As one participant told me – Project Healing Waters Programs provide love and hugs – not drugs… This can help us recover – physically and emotionally – and in the end our injuries can become our strengths. We can emerge healed – reborn and reconnected in ways we never thought possible. Thank you Bob Woodruff Foundation for your generous support for us!! You helped Project Healing Waters bring life full circle for me.
Todd Desgrosseilliers is a Marine Corps veteran and infantry officer with 31 years of service to our Nation. A native of Auburn, Maine, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1985 and attained the rank of Sergeant before becoming an officer. He commanded at each rank and most recently served as the Commanding Officer, The Basic School from 2012 to 2014. He also served as the Commanding Officer, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines from 2005 to 2007 – deploying the Battalion to Iraq in 2006-2007, where they conducted counter-insurgency operations in Ramadi and Fallujah. Todd developed a love for fly fishing growing up in Maine chasing its abundant native brook trout and landlocked salmon in its numerous lakes and streams. Todd reconnected with fly fishing after joining the PHWFF Quantico and Fort Belvoir Programs upon the recommendation of his physical therapist in March 2015. As a participant, Todd recognized the remarkable physical and emotional transformation that PHWFF Programs initiated for him and his fellow veterans and decided that he wanted to join its exceptional team after his retirement from the military and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc. (PHWFF).