GALLATIN GATEWAY — There’s no debate Montana is the fly fishing capital of the United States, but it’s a sport that isn’t all that accessible to people with physical disabilities. That’s why Eagle Mount and the Challenged Athletes Foundation joined forces for the first time ever this past week to host a Fly Fishing and Water Adventure Camp.
“This is our first-ever fly fishing camp that we’ve ever done in the State of Montana - really anywhere," CAF director of development Nancy Reynolds said. "We’re really figuring out together how to adapt to the sport and how to make everyone successful.”
For three days, eight Montanans descended onto some of the Treasure State’s most iconic rivers. From drift boat to wade fishing, last week was filled with a lot of firsts—firsts that wouldn’t have been made possible without the many helping hands from both non-profits.
"I caught eight fish," Bozeman resident Marissa Medina smiled. "Eight fish my first time fishing ever. Challenged Athletes kind of really help me out with that because they know people who are disabled, and they know how to help them without kind of asking, and that’s really great to just be like, 'I’m here to help you, whatever you need,' and that’s really comforting.”
“It’s pretty amazing just to see people who’ve never had the chance to be in the water, to float down the river, to catch fish on fly," Bozeman resident Ridley Brandmayr added. "It’s really special."
For the past 28 years, CAF has rooted itself in helping people with physical challenges pursue active lifestyles like providing grants for specialized equipment.
“It’s a game-changer for the outdoors because someone like Michael [Kneeland] can now go hiking with his family," Reynolds explained. "They can even go on trails. It’s an all-terrain wheelchair that you actually pull yourself. It’s a lever system, so no one has to push you.”
“I feel like I’m standing in the water," Bozeman resident Michael Kneeland said. "It’s pretty nice and very stable too, and I just can fly fish without worrying about me falling into to water.”
Arguably the most special part these camps provide disabled athletes with is new, profound confidence.
“I can just do it and enjoy being into sports and not just sitting around and watching other people do the sports that you would like to do," Kneeland said.
"Being with other people who have similar problems as me—it’s nice to be around a community of wheelchairs. That really helps me have confidence to just do sports.”
“I have all the confidence in the world, and especially that Challenged Athletes are here today, I’m so grateful and it just makes me really proud," Medina added. "It makes me feel more independent as a disabled person, and I can conquer the world.”
For more information on how to get involved with either Eagle Mount or the Challenged Athletes Foundation, click here.