For Army veteran Kurt Glass, fishing has long been not only a favorite pastime but a form of therapy.
As a young boy watching his father fish on the creek with a rod and reel, Kurt instinctively created his own pole using a tree limb and cord with a small minnow tied to the end. While his dad and some other anglers had yet to catch a bite, young Kurt was pulling in a two-pound fish with his makeshift pole.
“I was walking down the road like Huckleberry Finn,” Kurt says. “That’s what started me right there. On the weekends, I’d spend the night by the river or stay with a friend who had a houseboat, and I’d just fish and catfish.”
Kurt entered into the Army as an infantryman in 1965. Three years later, while serving in Vietnam, he fell and injured his back while exiting a helicopter. He returned to Vietnam as a platoon sergeant for one year in 1970, but over that decade, he experienced escalating back pain that led to two surgeries in 1980 and 1982. During a third back surgery in 1984, the surgeon nicked his spinal cord, leaving a blood clot at the base of his spine. Kurt was paralyzed from the waist down.
“I was in the hospital for seven and a half months at Fort Gordon, and that’s where I found Paralyzed Veterans of America,” Kurt says. “They walked me through the benefits process, and then I found out there were all of these Paralyzed Veterans sports programs that covered about anything you wanted to do.”
While most would wonder if such an injury would keep them from passions like fishing and hunting, Kurt saw it as an opportunity. He immediately began volunteering with the Southeastern chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, including 27 years of service as treasurer and a board member up until last year.
Kurt also worked with the Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah, Georgia, to use Corps property to set up a hunting course that incorporates wheelchair accessible ramps. “The Corps took us under their wing and broke their backs helping us build the hunting course,” Kurt says. “All a Paralyzed Veterans chapter needs to do is contact the Corps and ask them to set up hunting and fishing areas, and they’ll do it.”
Kurt’s involvement in Paralyzed Veterans of America’s sports programs also have enabled him to display his natural talent for hunting and fishing: he’s been named PVA Bass Tour's Angler of the Year twice and in tournaments has won a total of seven boats, one of which he gave to the Southeastern chapter to raffle off.
“It doesn’t mean that I’m great; I just happened to be lucky,” Kurt says. “These guys and girls [veterans] can do the same thing and win as much as I have.”
Despite Kurt’s success, still more fulfilling to him is having the opportunity to help others – whether part of the Southeastern chapter, the wounded warriors at Fort Gordon, or the veteran community at large – to escape from what may be some dark places and discover that nearly all sports and activities are not only available and accessible to them but can also serve as a form of therapy.
“Just to get them out in mother nature to hear the owls and ducks and watch the fish jump, it calms your brain and soothes your nerves and body,” Kurt says. “It’s good for your soul.”
And now, after having served nearly 20 years in the Army and 29 years with the Southeastern chapter, Kurt is not close to giving up on his passion to help others find therapy through recreation. “We have to keep fighting to make the outside accessible,” he says. “I’m just into hunting and fishing, and I love helping people.”
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.