Float fishing action on the Yellowstone River on Monday July, 19. PHOTO COURTESY CHALLENGED ATHLETES FOUNDATION

Learning to fish

The Challenged Athletes Foundation and Eagle Mount pair up to put on a fly fishing clinic for physically disabled athletes

"He said it was the best day ever.” This is how Nancy Reynolds described young athlete Ridley Brandmayr’s reaction after finishing up a day fly fishing on the Yellowstone river. It seems as if Brandmayr was not alone as all eight participants in the Challenged Athletes Foundation fly fishing camp made some memories that will last a lifetime.

This past week, July 19-21, a group of eight physically disabled athletes gathered in Big Sky for a three day fly fishing camp put on by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and Eagle Mount. All eight are from the state of Montana and the majority of which reside in or near Gallatin County. The athletes either experienced a traumatic event during their lives or were born with their disability.

The event was put on by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), a 28-year-old non-profit organization based out of San Diego, Calif. Challenged Athletes Foundation works to give opportunities to physically disabled athletes with a distinct mission, “To provide opportunities and support to people with physical challenges, so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics. The Challenged Athletes Foundation believes that involvement in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life,” according to the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s website.

The CAF helps people with permanent physical disabilities in all 50 states and 70 countries. Unfortunately, insurance does not cover sports equipment for physically disabled athletes for the majority of these places. CAF aims to help physically disabled people who can’t afford adaptive sports equipment through their grant program. People from all over the world apply for grants from CAF to help obtain adaptive equipment, training and travel to various events.

CAF partnered with Eagle Mount with this event. Eagle Mount is a local company based out of Bozeman that also aims to give athletes with physical disabilities opportunities to do what they love. They have been around for nearly 40 years and have been very active in the Big Sky community, especially during the winter according to Eagle Mount’s website.

Although CAF has been around for a 28 year stint, this was their first event like this. The event provided all eight participants with some thrilling river adventures and memories that will last a lifetime. The event began on Sunday night with a barbeque to allow the participants to get to know one another, which was a huge success. According to senior director of business development at the Challenged Athletes Foundation Nancy Reynolds, the connections made at this event really meant a lot to each of the participants. “Everyone that just met each other in the last two days wants to keep in touch, so they all shared their phone numbers with one another to really make that connection and stay in touch,” Reynolds said.

The camp continued with three exciting days out on the water. Both CAF and Eagle Mount partnered with Gallatin River Guides to help teach and guide the athletes. Reynolds states that she was thoroughly impressed with the guides and their uplifting attitude, “All of the guides were so helpful and excited. I feel like their guides really got a sense of what it was like to help people with physical disabilities,” Reynolds said.

The entire group went out Monday to float fish the Yellowstone river, a 12 mile, all day float. On Tuesday, the group was split up into wheelchair athletes and ambulatory athletes. The wheelchair athletes floated a different stretch of the Yellowstone while the ambulatory athletes waded in and fished a few stretches of the Gallatin. Wednesday, was a water sports day up at Hyalite Lake, in which CAF provided adaptive equipment for the athletes to use to get out on the water and participate. The age and experience level of the participants varied significantly. Athletes ages 15 through 61 participated in the event, some whom had never fished before. However, Reynolds was proud to report that all eight participants caught fish each day and learned a ton about fly fishing.

Reynolds, along with the rest of CAF and Eagle Mount were thrilled with how this event came together. They believe that spreading awareness through events in communities such as Big Sky will continue to increase the participation of physically disabled athletes. Reynolds states that not many people in Montana know that there are opportunities for equipment and events for physically disabled athletes. “There’s a lot of people in the state that don’t know about the Challenged Athletes Foundation or Eagle Mount and they don’t know that they could get a handcycle or a GRIT chair and going hiking with their families or they could join some of the programs at Eagle Mount,” Reynolds said.

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