(WIS) - The annual Troop Appreciation Fishing Derby is an all-expenses-paid day of fun for wounded warriors across the southeast region.
This year's event was held at Pine Island in Lexington. The facilities were donated to the cause by SCE&G. They're just one on a list of many donors who made it possible for dozens of wounded warriors to experience a day of guided fishing on Lake Murray this week.
"What's better than having a nice time on the water fishing? That's why I call it my water therapy," Army veteran Harold Clark said.
This year, 70 wounded warriors signed up to take part in the annual Troop Appreciation Fishing Derby. Captain Michael Glover is the founder of the Troop Appreciation Foundation. He says he came up with the idea for the annual Fishing Derby after a much smaller fishing trip eight years ago.
"I said, you know what? I think I can do better than just 'thank you for your service.' How about I get some of my buddies together and we take out some of your soldiers?"
Every participant has served in major combat, but you cannot always see the scars of a wounded warrior.
"I have severe PTSD and a traumatic brain injury from explosions in Afghanistan," Clark said. "[Derby Days] helps with me getting out of the house, meeting other veterans who have the same symptoms as me and the camaraderie like I used to do while I was in the service."
This year, 25 experienced boat captains volunteered their time and their boats! All the troops have to do it show up, sit back, and practice their fishing skills.
"It takes me to a whole new place of peace of mind. Hearing the water, just feeling the wind in my face – I'm at ease and there's nothing going to hurt me," Clark said.
"Being outdoors, being on the water, it's fun, it's beautiful and it definitely does help," says Army Veteran Shaun Robey, who lost part of his leg after being shot in the ankle during an ambush in Iraq.
Robey says it's an experience not many will understand.
"Being back with guys that I was familiar with for so many years. Instead of just everybody asking me questions, they don't have to ask," Robey said. "They don't need to know. They already know."
Everyone is given the chance to catch five fish, with a prize for the biggest catch, but thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the public, no soldier leaves empty-handed.
"We have lots of people in the community, a lot of businesses, a lot of individuals that will dig down deep, that will write a check, and the moment they find out that we're doing this for wounded warriors the next question is, 'what can I do to help?"
This was the seventh year for the Fishing Derby, and every year the list of sponsors grows even bigger!
So much so, that this year there were about $20,000 in prizes available. Each soldier left the even with a gift worth about $150. For more information on the annual Troop Appreciation Foundation, click here.