Reeling in Hope
Photography by Casting for Recovery
Interview with Lise Lozelle
Fishing has long been known as a peaceful, bonding activity. One organization that has a unique purpose for this recreational pursuit is Casting for Recovery, which has served over 10,000 women affected by breast cancer through their weekend retreat program. Now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2021, Casting for Recovery (CfR) has cast its net throughout America, with dozens of retreats available each year. Lise Lozelle, CfR’s marketing director, talks about the organization’s mission and impact.
Tell us how all this started:
It started with two friends fishing: Dr. Benita Walton, a surgeon; and Gwenn Perkins Bogart, a professional angler. They started talking about how the gentle movement and motion of casting would be good for women recovering from breast cancer surgery or radiation. So, along with some other friends in their community in Vermont, they decided to start a fly-fishing program in 1996 with one retreat. In 2021, we plan to host fifty-two retreats in forty-five states.
CfR originated in Vermont, so how did it end up based in Montana?
[Laughs] Good question. Our previous executive director lived in Bozeman, Montana. For her first few years on the job, she commuted back and forth between Montana and Vermont. In the summer of 2017, we made the decision to relocate the office to Bozeman. The Mountain West is America’s epicenter for fly-fishing, and a lot of our national sponsors are also based in the region. So it made sense to relocate.
Yet you live in Texas. Is your organization remote?
We’ve had a virtual model for a long time. Our national program director is based here with me in Austin, and we also have three staff members in Vermont, one in Pittsburgh, one in Denver, one in Wyoming, and two in Montana. Even though COVID-19 didn’t change our work setup, it changed everything for us because we had a year with no retreats.
That sounds disappointing. How did you help the women virtually?
We did three significant things. First, we offered a program for our alumnae called the Pink Fly Club, which featured a series of educational outreach videos on things like nutrition, mindfulness, nature, and fly-fishing. This was a shift for us to actively keep the alumnae connected, and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback.
We also offered resources and information to women who had applied for a retreat but couldn’t attend due to COVID-19. We stayed connected with them and offered them some helpful tools to get ready for when they can go to a retreat. We also have a partnership with Trout Unlimited, which generously offered a free one-year membership to the women that applied in 2020. That’s a great resource because it connects them to their local fly-fishing communities where they can learn more about fly-fishing and conservation efforts.
Finally, for our volunteer leaders we started a monthly Facebook Live video series called the Dry Bag, where we pick a different topic and provide relevant information to help people with their programs, fundraising, and outreach.
Who organizes the retreats?
We have an army of over 1,800 volunteers across the country that help run our programs on the ground. They get trained and are given resources, and we help to secure their retreat locations. We provide all the gear—a retreat box with everything that they would need—and the curriculum. Each program takes on its own unique flavor because each location is different. The takeaway is similar, though: even though you’re fishing in different water and it’s run by different volunteers, the program “magic” is the same.
How long are the retreats? What do they entail?
They’re two-and-a-half days. Each retreat is run by a retreat leader, and there’s a team of women that help support the weekend along with anglers plus oncology and mental health professionals.
Participants arrive on Friday and get comfortable. On Saturday, they learn the basics of fly-fishing, a little about entomology, and why we fly-fish. There’s a medical talk and lunch and a little bit of light exercise. Later, they have dinner and an evening circle activity, which allows the participants to talk about whatever they want. On Sunday morning, we pair each woman with her own individual fly-fishing guide to fish. A lot of women who’ve seen A River Runs Through It hope that Brad Pitt might show up and be their guide. [Laughs]
It’s always interesting to see how connections over the weekend so often turn into a super-tight bond and a lifelong friendship. Women come in as strangers and they leave as family, which is an amazing transformation to see.
What are some other takeaways?
These women who attend are usually busy taking care of everyone else but themselves, so this retreat allows us to take care of them for a weekend. But it also allows them to form a community that they didn’t necessarily know they needed—interestingly, over 70 percent have never been to a support group before. Now they have these thirteen other women who get it. It’s a pretty powerful thing.
And we’re really proud of the fact that, going into our twenty-fifth anniversary, we have a 100 percent alumnae referral rate. Even though these women may not fish again, they do say that their fishing day was one of the best days of their life. We’ve had testimonials that say it rivals the birth of their children or their wedding day. And lots of women have said if they’re having a bad day, they’ll think back to that morning on the water and what it felt like: how calm it was and how they didn’t have any worries.
That’s one of the great parts about getting back to nature. In fact, if there’s something positive that’s come out
of COVID-19, it’s that the world has been reminded of the healing power of nature. So many people are visiting our national parks, going on walks while taking in the birds chirping, breathing fresh air, and getting their toes in the grass. I think it has helped people to understand the power of what we do, even if they don’t fully understand the fly-fishing aspect.
You also offer specialized retreats. What was the inspiration for that?
Because we’re a relatively small nonprofit, we take all the information we get back from our past participants and modify the program as needed. Our most successful specialty retreat is for women with advanced breast cancer. These women may feel uncomfortable speaking freely about their experience because, for others, there’s such a huge fear of recurrence. So we started a ten-woman retreat for women with metastatic breast cancer, and it was incredibly successful. I also volunteer for CfR here in Texas, and this retreat is my favorite, which may sound strange. But the women in that retreat have such a will to live and want to experience everything and do everything, and they have so much positive energy even when they’re sick.
We’ve also done other things, such as retreats for Native American women and other women of color. In fact, we’ve focused a lot of effort in trying to reach underserved women, who may need us the most, long before where we are now in our current cultural moment. We’ve been very diverse for a very long time—breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. Sometimes it’s counterintuitive because people associate fly-fishing with older white men, and that’s not us.
What is CfR doing to celebrate twenty-five years? What do you hope to see going forward for the next twenty-five years?
We’re going to do some special things for the twenty-fifth, including offering collectible gear and other products. We’re also in the midst of putting together a beautiful coffee table book that captures the gorgeous photography from twenty-five years of retreats, powerful quotes, and some history. Of course, we’ll have some big fundraising campaigns around it as well.
Personally, my hope is that CfR continues to thoughtfully grow. We had a goal of serving over 10,000 women, which we met. And I hope that we serve 10,000 more and then some, while offering the same beautiful experiences, staying true to our mission, and maintaining the magic of what CFR provides.
For more info, visit castingforrecovery.org