Today, August 4, 20 years of Casting for Recovery in Maine will be celebrated at the Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsmen’s Association in Oquossoc. As many as possible Mountain Princesses, their family and friends will gather for their special union with each other and the volunteers who have enriched their lives. Through the efforts of Bonnie Holding our state has the longest running Casting for Recovery program.
Bonnie has been fly fishing since she married Blaine Holding, and the activity has shaped her life. She worked in the fly fishing department of LL Bean before moving to Stratton when Blaine became game warden in that area.
Like many Mainers, for decades Bonnie has been a seasonal worker. She is a Master Maine Guide, concentrating on fly fishing for trout and salmon. Although there were several other women certified when she began, Bonnie was unique in that she guided full-time every summer until 2014 when she accepted the position of Director of Information and Education at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. During the winter, she runs her own business. Gold/Smith Gallery at Sugarloaf is a jewelry store and art gallery, featuring local artists.
She learned of Casting for Recovery while attending a Women’s Health Symposium at Bowdoin College. Although not presenting at the meeting, representatives of the group were there to explain how their program could benefit women who were recovering from breast cancer. As she listened to the benefits and the way the programs were conducted Bonnie thought, “I could do this.”
And she did. For years she organized, located fishing resorts who would accommodate them, recruited volunteers, oversaw the retreats, and held fundraisers.
Attendees are responsible only for getting themselves to the designated fishing area. From that point, everything is done for them. There is lodging, meals, fishing equipment, guides. There are classes in tying knots and casting, entomology and related flies. There is a psychotherapist to lead group discussions open only to the attendees. As Bonnie has described the program, it is “All about fly fishing, and not at all about fly fishing.” As an attendee at the 2016 retreat, I have discovered the truth of this statement.
In preparation for one of the early retreats, Bonnie and a friend were walking around the Dollar Store, searching for little things to go into the swag bags. They wandered into the toy department and the admitted tomboy who was most comfortable with men and had never been a girly-girl noticed and kept returning to a display of tiaras. That summer, the first Mountain Princesses were crowned.
Over time there have been regular volunteers, chief among them Nancy Taylor, and psychologist Margaret Atwood. Fly Fishing in Maine began by donating to the program. It now conducts a ‘reunion’ each year for alumnae of the retreats, the only one of its kind in the country. Each year there are volunteers to teach the classes, as well as a private guide for each of the participants.
Casting for Recovery is a chance for breast cancer women to learn a new sport, a new way to heal, and a time to be with others who are going through the same things. As a participant, not a volunteer, I can tell you there is a spectrum of severity of the disease and a wide range of reactions to everything that happens to bodies, minds, emotions, relationships. This retreat was the first time many of us had been with others who were dealing with the same basic foe. There was also a lot of difference in the time that we had each known about and dealt with the affliction. Talking together in the organized group and on our own was incredibly important. We could discuss everything with others who not only sympathized but also were in the same situation. It was an incredible gift.
What Bonnie considers the most meaningful part of the program, the thing that makes her happiest is “…the smiles. The instant gratification that you could take away, even briefly, from the hideousness of it all. It is selfish. I get so much from the smiles.” “The smiles and fun.” Would there were more “selfish” people like Bonnie Holding! The labor she has put in for over 20 years to establish and maintain this event is monumental. The joy that she brings to 14 women at a time is priceless.
Note: Most of this was printed as the cover story in Bangor Daily News The Weekly, August 2, 2018. This is an expanded, personalized version.