Originally Published by The Williams Lake Tribune, September 22, 2015

By Greg Sabatino

Tina Aulenback can see a light at the end of the tunnel for her husband, Darren Aulenback.

That’s after Darren and 13 other military veterans in care from across B.C. continued along their individual healing processes during a Wounded Warriors Fly Fishing program in and around Williams Lake — the first of its kind in Canada.

“It’s relaxation,” Darren said of why he was drawn to the event.

A father of five children from Prince George who served in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Slovenia, Darren now suffers from physical and emotional wounds.

“It’s peaceful and good to have a few laughs.”

Tina, a nurse by trade, now assists her husband at home full time.

“It was really good for us to come here and really good for Darren to be here with the boys and just hang out,” Tina said.

“This is a place where Darren can be with a bunch of men that have experienced a lot of what he’s gone through, or is going through, so even though you may not talk about your experiences or share it you can just be in a comfort zone. You can just be who you are and there’s no judging.”

During the three-day event, spearheaded by Williams Lake fly fishing expert Jack Simpson, participants arrived Friday to learn how to fly cast, before receiving three separate lectures from Kamloops’ Brian Chan, an internationally renowned fly fisherman.

Participants then travelled to various lakes in the Cariboo including Blue Lake, Forest Lake and Jackson Lake to put what they’d learned to good use, along with the assistance of volunteer guides from Fly BC and the Conservation Officer Service.

“It was good for Darren to go out fishing yesterday,” Tina said, pointing to the therapeutic aspects of fly fishing. “It’s really rewarding being his wife and seeing him out there enjoying himself and not worrying about anything. You can put your brain on a break for a while.”

Simpson, a veteran himself, was inspired to take on the project after being asked by Wounded Warriors Canada last year. Already committed to Project Healing Waters — an association dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing — he worked alongside the national director for fly fishing with Wounded Warriors, Gervais Jeffrey, of Quebec, to organize the event.

Simpson is a believer of the benefits of recreational fly fishing for those affected by post-combat issues such as post traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s the end of the weekend now, and I’m tickled pink,” Simpson said during a rainy lunch break Sunday. “I’m tickled pink with the results on some of the participants.

“I saw results. I saw changes in attitude. I saw changes in stress levels of a reasonable number. I had no expectations — I’m more practical than that — but I saw changes in half a dozen of the 14 guys here.”

Another highlight of Simpson’s was having Horsefly’s Hana Eastmond on hand during Saturday’s banquet to perform a song she produced and recorded, Let ‘er Fly, for Wounded Warriors after she learned how fly fishing can play a major role in post-combat lives.

“People were stunned by her performance, and also the words are really applicable,” Jeffrey said.

Chan, meanwhile, who has written books on fly fishing, been featured on multiple fishing TV shows, and hosts his own fishing show, said it was his first involvement with Wounded Warriors.

“It was pretty eye-opening to spend some time with some of the veterans and hear their stories,” Chan said. “For them it’s a healing process. They can talk to people about it, let people know they’re suffering and if we can give them something new to try, hopefully it helps. Mentally it’s something good, and for me it’s neat to be involved in something like this.”

Tina, Darren and several other veterans acknowledged the phenomenal job Simpson did hosting the event, and said she can see brighter days ahead, thanks to events like Wounded Warriors.

“Jack is amazing,” Tina said. “We went to one last year in Whistler and it wasn’t as personable as this one. This was a family getting together.”

Jeffrey added he thought the event was a huge success. He also noted it was the first time in the history of the country when Williams Lake’s city council declared a dedicated Wounded Warriors Canada week.

“The soldiers did benefit out of it, and with the work done by Jack in getting everything together it’s really excellent.”

Darren, likewise, echoed his wife’s comments and said he would encourage other military veterans to try fly fishing.

“This is good,” he said. “If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

Photo courtesy of Greg Sabatino, The Williams Lake Tribune