At first, the link between fly-fishing and breast cancer may seem a bit ... fishy. Karin Erickson, of Woodbury, admits she knew almost nothing about the sport when she signed up for "Casting for Recovery," a retreat designed for women who have shared that frightening diagnosis.
But in 2009, when she arrived at the Lodge at Crooked Lake, in Siren, Wis., with 13 other women, she discovered "an instant bond."
"You kind of get away from all the problems," she said, "and you just spend the day out in nature."
The program started 15 years ago in Vermont as a way to help women who have faced breast cancer find a new measure of healing through the gentle art of fly-fishing.
This year, about 630 women will take part in the retreats nationwide, including -- for the third year in a row -- in Wisconsin. "This is a chance for them to take time out for themselves, to reflect, to talk to other breast cancer survivors," said Kim Rasmussen, of Mound, a volunteer who runs the Siren retreat (and who works for one of its main sponsors, the Hartford Financial Services Group.)
The program is all expenses paid for 14 lucky women who applied -- and were chosen by random drawing -- for the Wisconsin retreat, which begins Aug. 12.
The three-day gathering mixes sessions on the physical effects of breast cancer with lessons on knot-tying and casting. The highlight is the last day, when the women wade into Knapp Creek, each paired with an experienced fly fisherman, (yes, they are mostly men) and put themselves to the test.
"It's supposed to be peace and quiet," Rasmussen said, but when one gets a bite, "they start yelling 'fish on, fish on!'" and running with their cameras.
The best part, said Erickson, who is now cancer-free and a volunteer at the retreats, is sharing the experience with women "who get it." Next year, the group hopes to host a retreat in Minnesota as well.
For more information, go to castingforrecovery.org.