The Wounded Warrior Anglers treated 18 warriors and seven caregivers, three of which were also warriors, to a day of fishing and pampering this past weekend.
WWA, a 501c3 organization, hosted its fourth big outing Friday and Saturday, April 12-13.
Diane Riley attended the retreat with her boyfriend Saturday. She said she met Paul Croteau, who served in the Army and Navy, while she was in downtown Fort Myers and he was visiting from New Hampshire. Croteau eventually moved to the area and learned about WWA while visiting the VA Clinic.
Angel Vasquez, who served in the Army for 26 1/2 years, received a rod and reel from Tim Smith of Bimini Bay Outfitters Saturday morning at the Olde Fish House Marina before the Wounded Warrior Anglers fishing retreat.
While Croteau enjoyed a day out on the water fishing, Riley was pampered at Spa 33. She said she was happy and excited for Croteau because he was out doing something he enjoyed while bonding with others that have served in the military.
"This is really an amazing thing," she said of the retreat. "It's wonderful for everyone."
The caregivers were treated to a day at Spa 33. They received a manicure, facial, massage, make-up and their hair styled. The caregivers also received a catered lunch from the Olde Fish House Marina.
The day of pampering, Riley said, was a huge treat for her because she works six days a week.
"I'm looking forward to a day of relaxation," she said shortly after she arrived at the spa. "I'm very appreciative. What a great experience to have. I'm appreciative of them donating everything."
She said WWA is a great organization that is gracious about everything.
Yanira Zeigler, a resident of Melbourne, also attended the event with her husband, Damon, who served in the Marines for 12 years and medically retired in 2008. The couple originally met in Mexico on vacation.
She said fishing calms her husband down because he has a short fuse.
"He tends to go fishing to relax and be by himself," Yanira said.
She said Damon does not talk a lot of his experiences while serving, so retreats like Saturday are good for him because when the warriors get together they all tend to share a bond and strike up conversations, since they all served in the military.
"You go with the flow," Yanira said, about having patience and listening when her husband wants to share.
Days at the gym, as well as pampering at the spa, are had quite frequently for Yanira, so she too can have days of relaxation.
"You need this time to relax from the day to day activities," she said as her hair was being styled.
Shane and Danielle Wilson, residents of North Fort Myers, also took part in the festivities Saturday. The couple of 12 years met while serving in the Army, as they were both in the field lying on the ground doing weaponry exercises.
Danielle served for six years and Shane served in the Army for 13 years.
She said she enjoyed her time in the service because she had the opportunity to learn new things, along with operating big equipment.
The Wilsons learned about WWA at a tackle shop in Cape Coral when they ran into Judy and Dave Souders, co-founders of the organization.
Danielle said she enjoyed the retreat because of how the community reached out to all of them and took time out of their schedule to take care of them.
"Genuine people," she said.
Although she received her first massage on Saturday, and enjoyed it, she said her favorite part of the weekend was the conversations.
"I'm talking to adults and not kids," Danielle said.
She said she was also excited for her husband, since he had the opportunity to go fishing Saturday.
"It's good for my husband to get out because he doesn't talk at home," Danielle said.
Cape Coral resident Jessica Conant was also invited to the retreat with her husband, Jim.
Jessica served in the Army for nine years and Jim served for 22 years.
The couple, who have been together for 16 years this August, was separated for two consecutive years while they were in the Army.
"That was hard," Jessica said, adding that is why she got out of the Army.
Although she was never deployed, her husband was deployed five times. Jessica said being a single parent was the hardest part of his deployment.
The couple met the Souders at the Matlacha Mariners Seafood Festival. Jessica said meeting the couple got her husband excited because he would have some fishing buddies.
The retreat meant a day of relaxation and a break from not running around for Jessica.
"Knowing he is doing something to relieve the stress," she said made the trip great.
Before the warriors went fishing Saturday morning, Tim Smith of Bimini Bay Outfitters conducted a rod and reel presentation. He provided the warriors with a Shimano Soltace 4000 with a power pro braided line.
Souders said the rod and reel is a tool for the warriors for their own therapy. He said having the rod and reel will provide them with the opportunity to continue to fish beyond the day of the retreat.
Eight captains donated their time and boat to the cause this past weekend.
George Patton, who participated in the retreat for the first time Saturday as a captain enjoyed it thoroughly.
"It's awesome," he said of the day out on the water. "I will do it again."
Patton said he enjoyed the event due to the excitement Croteau had on the boat.
"He was so excited and that's what makes it good," he said.
Patton said WWA is a very worthwhile cause.
"I hope more people will participate," he said.
Antoine LaChapelle, who has been a captain for all four retreats, also donated his time Saturday. He said he was excited about Saturday's retreat because it attracted more warriors who were almost all local.
"It's great having them closer," LaChapelle said. "We can keep in touch."
Once the captains and warriors returned they were treated to a fish fry at the Olde Fish House Marina, which was comprised of what they caught.
Larry Steponik, one of the many warriors, enjoyed the day out on the water. He served in the Army Infantry in 1968-1969 during Vietnam. He received a purple heart, two bronze stars, combat infantry badge and an air medal.
Saturday was the first time Steponik fished in Florida and he caught the Pine Island triple.
"It helps me relax, my mind is on fishing and that's it," Steponik said of his experience.
He said part of his therapy is to get out and meet new people, which is what this past weekend provided for him.
"When you meet vets, it's a natural bond," Steponik said, adding that hopefully he will bump into those who he met at the retreat more often. "It's a new thing, a great thing. Just what the doctor ordered for me."
He said he has worked with veterans all of his life. He spent 10 years as a national service officer, a veteran's rep for 25 years and recently became a volunteer at the new VA Clinic in Cape Coral.
The event also held a special meaning for Angel Vazquez because a lot of people who attended the retreat met for the first time. He said they all acted like they have known each other for years.
A day out on the boat fishing meant relaxation for Vazquez because he focuses all of his attention on analyzing everything in order to catch a fish.
Vazquez served in the Army for 26 1/2 years, which he explained was the best experience of his life because of the camaraderie.
"You don't think about yourself, but others, you build this bond," he said.
While serving in the Army he was one of 10 members of the Military Transition Team. He said they used humor to get through some of the hard times.
"Humor was a way to deal with what was going on," Vazquez said.