When Stewart Brown, better known simply as Stu, was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 48, he found solace while fly fishing the quiet streams and rivers of Colorado.
“While he was on the water, he never thought about cancer,” said Stan Golub, executive director of Reel Recovery.
So Brown, Golub, and two other men, all avid fly fisherman, started Reel Recovery in 2003 to give men who are battling cancer the opportunity to experience the healing power that Brown felt while fishing.
On the very first Reel Recovery retreat in June of 2003, which took place in Loveland, Brown told a group of three men, “Your greatest gift is what you give yourself,” Brown said.
That comment was made three days before Brown was to go into surgery for a brain tumor, surgery from which he would never make a full comeback.
That comment has become the mainstay of the group, which provides men with cancer the chance to learn how to fly fish while giving them an opportunity to connect with and talk to other men who are battling cancer, all at absolutely zero cost to participants.
Not only do the program’s participants learn to fly fish, they also get to build a “unique band of brothers,” according to Golub.
“They tell us things they have never told anybody, including their spouses and families,” Golub said. “We put them out in an environment where they have time to bond and create the friendships that allow for opening up and sharing experiences.”
Since that faithful day in June 2003, when the first the first retreat took place, Reel Recovery has since expanded to a national nonprofit with 151 retreats under their belt to date, 25 of those in Colorado, and has served over 17,000 men with cancer nationwide. The group now conducts retreats in 18 states and completes around 23 retreats a year.
They recently finished a retreat at the Bar Lazy J Ranch just outside of Kremmling, where participants got the chance to fish the clear, calm, and trout-filled waters of the Upper Colorado River. The group has been coming to the Bar Lazy J Ranch since 2009 and has returned every year since.
The program provides participants, usually around a dozen a retreat, with free food, lodging, fishing instruction, and “courageous conversation.”
While the fishing is the hook that gets these men to the retreats, it is the camaraderie, the opportunity to share stories with men who are facing similar predicaments that makes these retreats so positive in their lives.
“Hopefully they leave with a renewed sense of hope, a commitment to life, and a new group of friends to lean on when they need it,” Golub said.
Volunteers run the retreats, and the program is funded by fundraisers, businesses and private donors.
When Brown was hospitalized after the group’s first retreat, he wrote a letter to Lance Armstrong, who called Brown and said he wanted to meet him. After meeting Brown and hearing how much good the retreat did for the men who attended, Armstrong’s foundation cut the group a check to fund another retreat for that year. After that initial check, Armstrong’s foundation also provided the organization with enough grant money to maintain them for three years.
Brown died a week after hearing the news about the grant money from Armstrong’s foundation. But he died knowing that his legacy and Reel Recovery would live on.
Brown’s legacy did live on, and the group has grown into the national organization it is today.
The program is now in its 10th year and is running strong. Its annual fundraiser in Denver takes place on Sunday, Nov. 3, at the Creek Restaurant in Centennial to help raise funds for future retreats.
Though the group won’t be conducting another retreat until the spring of next year, they welcome all men with cancer to their retreats.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334
“Your greatest gift is what you give yourself.”
Reel Recovery Founder