Paralyzed Veterans of America volunteer Dick Brown wishes he could make helping disabled veterans through adaptive sports like bass fishing a full-time job.
Dick, a Nationwide Insurance agent for more than 34 years, says it has always been in his nature to help others, as evidenced by his choice in career in serving individuals with their insurance needs. That’s why it was a natural fit when in 1997 one of his fishing mentors – Marine veteran Butch Ward – asked him to volunteer for Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Bass Tour.
“Would I do something different to make a career out of doing stuff for Paralyzed Veterans or anything to do with the outdoors? Yes, probably,” Dick says. “But my job pays the bills and enables me to do the things I love to do.”
Dick now serves as the chairman for Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Capital Clash bass fishing tournament, the premier event of the Bass Tour that takes place annually on the Potomac River in Waldorf, Md. The event pairs up veterans from local war transition units and hospitals like Walter Reed, Bethesda, Quantico and Ft. Belvoir with local bass fishermen who volunteer their boats, equipment, time and expertise.
Dick humbly touts the contributions of his team members, rather than his own personal efforts, in making the annual tournament such a success. “It takes a village; it’s not just one or two people,” he says. “We all know what our jobs are, and without any one part of the spoke in that wheel, it’s not going to turn out the way it should.”
Most of all – above the fishing boats, food, tournament t-shirts, rods and reels and all other elements of the tournament planning – it’s about ensuring the more than 100 disabled veteran participants have a positive experience, Dick says. And it’s more than just fishing; it’s a healing experience as participants share stories about their military service and injuries, he adds.
It’s those stories and healing experiences that have kept Dick coming back as a volunteer for more than 17 years. In many cases, he feels he gains more from the experience than the disabled veterans the tournament serves.
“It’s a reality check when you have these young veterans who are paralyzed or missing limbs and yet they have a smile on their face,” Dick says. “And I question what I have to complain or worry about.”
One memorable experience came a few years ago when Dick fished with a double amputee veteran named Jeremy, who grew up in Wisconsin fishing but had not had the opportunity to do so in several years. After sharing his expertise, Dick learned of Jeremy’s story, and while both men fought back the tears, they continued to reel in fish after fish. The pair took second place in the tournament, but the emotional rewards were far greater than that, Dick says.
As the nation recognizes National Volunteer Week – an effort aimed at inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to serve their communities – Dick recognizes the positive impact volunteering for Paralyzed Veterans of America can have not only on the organization and veterans it serves but also on the volunteer.
“One of the neatest things about this event,” Dick says, “is we get guys out of the hospital and into their comfort zone – in the outdoors doing the things they liked to do before.”