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c50e7e2f-1e58-41fc-b156-f813b2547885Chief Executive Officer Colonel Todd Desgrosseilliers, USMC (ret) addressed The 3rd Annual Healing on the Fly gala on October 4, 2016 at The Loeb Boathouse in New York’s Central Park.

I’m from Maine and I consider myself a fisherman among other things. I grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s fishing in Maine – mostly with my grandfather – my mother’s father.  My grandfather believed you can teach anything important in life with a variety of fishing rods, fishing regulations, and a challenging fish-friendly environment.  Looking back – in hindsight – it’s true and he was right.

I was wounded several times between 2004 and 2007 fighting alongside my men in Fallujah, Iraq.  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.

Fishing with Project Healing Waters was the best thing I did to start to accept and to try to recover from my physical and emotional injuries. And here’s why:

Life is a circle and all action in it is circular or compensatory – any actions we take – good or bad -eventually  comes back to us – full circle if you will… 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 and remember that: To fulfill ourselves – often, we have to forget ourselves  To find ourselves – sometimes, we have to first lose ourselves.

That – maintaining our character, our integrity and our moral compass is about confronting our injuries with integrity and overcoming them as challenges. We have to give to receive. Sometimes – we have to surrender to something outside ourselves to gain strength within….Life is much bigger than we realize, cause and effect intertwine 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.  Ultimately, failure leads to the greatest success, 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 two questions provides a summons to life.  They point us towards our vocation, our calling…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. It’s about fly fishing – but it isn’t…

Project Healing Waters’ wisdom enabled me to see life from a wider perspective – one that I learned as a boy fly fishing with my grandfather– my strengths and weaknesses– my connections and dependencies– the important role we all play in a much larger story.  It’s about fly fishing – but it isn’t…

As one participant recently told me – Project Healing Waters Programs provide love and hugs – not drugs…This helps us recover – physically and emotionally. And in the end our injuries become our strengths.  We emerge healed – reborn and reconnected in ways we never thought possible.

Project Healing Waters brought life full circle for me.  That’s the magic of Ed Nicholson’s vision and that’s the magic your donations tonight will enable Project Healing Waters to continue for our warriors. I’m really honored for the opportunity to continue to serve our veterans as Project Healing Waters Chief Executive Officer.  Thank you all as well for your generosity and your willingness to help us.