How to help
On a recent afternoon, the springtime sun warming their shoulders, two men talk at the edge of a pond. Behind them, hulking silhouettes of the Blue Ridge Mountains cut their way into the horizon.
The younger man holds a fly fishing rod. He is in a wheelchair. There are stickers on the spokes, oval decals that say “Afghanistan” and “Veteran.”
The older man gives instruction, gesturing with his hands. The younger man listens, nodding. He whips the rod, drawing monofilament calligraphy against a blue sky. Gently, he lays line down on the water surface.
“Good,” the instructor says.
This is practice for Gainesville’s Sean Adams, a rehearsal for the real thing. In a matter of weeks, he hopes to be on his way to Alaska with girlfriend Callie Baize, where he’ll use the lessons learned today to try and catch a king salmon.
Funded through the support of friends, family and generous donors, the excursion for retired Lance Cpl. Adams — a 22-year-old U.S. Marine, who was wounded three years ago in Afghanistan — was the brainchild of Rick Jones, a fellow military veteran who also suffered serious injuries serving his country.
Jones created a crowdfunding page in March devoted to the cause of sending Adams fishing in Alaska. An outdoor enthusiast, Adams has fished and hunted all over Georgia, but his experience has been limited.
And, it’s limitations — both physical and financial — that Jones hopes to help Adams overcome.
“I found out about Sean. I read articles about him. I learned what he’d been through,” Jones said. “Right now, he’s feeling a lot of the same stuff I went through years ago. And I don’t remember how I came through it, but it wasn’t easy.”
In 1983, Jones was injured during a training exercise while stationed with the 902d Military Intelligence Unit at Fort Meade, Md.
“When I was 18, I broke my neck and had to learn to walk again,” Jones said. “I got messed up real bad, but not to the degree that (Adams) is dealing with.”
On Feb. 10, 2012, Adams — a 2011 graduate of Chestatee High School — stepped on an improvised explosive device while serving in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. He lost his legs, and his hands were damaged.
“We want Sean to have an opportunity to see how this fly rod will work for him,” said Jones, who watched Adams and his instructor practice casting line on the pond. “We want to see if there’s any modification needed for the fly rod. If there is, we can do it now. We can get him set up with a fly rod that he can use.”
Jones paused, watching Adams throw long, graceful loops of fishing line into the air. “But, I don’t think he’s going to need any modifications. Looks like he’s got it figured out.”
Instructor Bill Oyster agreed.
“(Adams) has never held a fly rod before, so we wanted to get him familiar with it. Learn how to cast a little bit and get ready for Alaska,” Oyster said. “It’s going great. He’s a super fast learner. He’s going to have no problems with it. He’s already casting as well as it’s going to take to catch fish.”
As far as teachers go, Adams could do worse than having Oyster show him the ropes.The world-famous fly fisherman makes and sells custom bamboo rods at his business — Oyster Fine Bamboo Fly Rods — in downtown Blue Ridge. His rods are “works of art,” Jones said. Each sells for thousands of dollars.
When asked if he would work with Adams, to teach him how to cast a fly rod, Oyster said “sure.”
“It’s the sort of thing you don’t say no to,” Oyster said. “Why wouldn’t you want to help with something like this?”
Jones hopes others will feel the same way. Halfway to the fundraising goal of $20,000 (which includes a 10-day trip to Alaska with a professional fishing guide, lodging and sightseeing for Adams and girlfriend Baize), Jones said a lot of people have been very generous.
As part of the efforts, an upcoming car show is planned from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 20 on Main Street in Gainesville. Why a car show?
“Sean is really big into automobiles,” Jones said.
Adams has a restored 1970 Chevelle he spends time working on. His other hobbies are mostly of the outdoor variety, but this fly fishing expedition will be a novel adventure.
“It’s going to be a new experience,” Adams said. “I’ve done a lot of fishing, but there’s more technique to this. I may still need some time to get it down, but I’m liking it.”
When Adams first learned of the plan to send him to Alaska, he thought Jones was off his rocker.
“I thought Rick was a madman, calling me up on my phone. I was like, ‘Man, how did you get my number?’” Adams said, laughing. “I told Callie, ‘I’m going to let this guy either fall on his face or come through shining.’ And, he’s doing it. He’s doing the work. It’s amazing, but we might really be going to Alaska.”
Jones, who took a trip to Alaska many years ago, thought it was a shame that a young man and outdoorsman like Adams had never had the chance to land a king salmon.
“We’re hoping it’s something he’ll never forget,” Jones said. “This kid’s been through a lot, and we hope we can give him the gift of a lifetime here.”
Adams is beyond grateful that Jones and others have taken an interest. He said it’s not always been easy adjusting to the surprises life has dealt him.
The past three years, he said, have been an “uphill fight.”
“There’s a lot that’s happened to me, but you just have to keep going,” Adams said. “You learn to adapt and overcome. And, you keep going. You live.”
To donate to the Alaska trip, visit the Go Fund Me page.