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Recreation Therapy Study Proves Validity Of Kayak Fishing For Veterans And First Responders

Heroes on the Water has completed the first phase of a study, titled Operation Early Impact, that provides measurable insights into the impact of its kayak fishing programs.

Allen, TX– Heroes on the Water has completed the first phase of a study, titled Operation Early Impact, that provides measurable insights into the impact of its kayak fishing programs. 

“We could tell our programs were impactful and have many success stories to showcase the positive outcomes,” says Neil Mullaney, Executive Director. “Now we have validated proof that kayak fishing improves the mental and physical wellbeing of our community.” 

The 2022 study was performed in our Therapeutic Program, which works directly with the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration aligned with the recreational therapist to provide kayak fishing as part of the overall treatment protocol for active-duty and veterans in treatment. The study utilized a peer-reviewed, validated toolset of questions developed by the program’s Research Coordinator, Shelby Sharpe, PhD.  

Operation Early Impact proves the efficacy of HOW’s program through measuring rather than making assumptions. The study highlights the program’s healing benefits for decreasing anxiety, overcoming depression, improving personal relationships, and alleviating symptoms of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. 

The major findings of the study show that 94% of HOW Therapeutic Program participants reported an increase in stress management skills, 93% reported an increase in self-efficacy and 91% reported positive impacts on personal relationships.  

“The stress management numbers are fantastic,” says Bob Bischoff, PhD Clinical Psychology and HOW Board Member.  

Another result of the study shows that HOW programs support relationships and how important the family is, as well as having their own struggles.  

“PTS is characterized by avoidance. Avoidance is a key factor because it’s a protective factor, which is effective but not adaptive,” says Bob. “What HOW does is it strips avoidance through a safe activity. If the participants have an enjoyable time, they are likely to do it again. The program goes deeper than fishing. It is supporting conversations with people.”  

HOW programs draw participants out of a comfort zone that helps them decrease avoidance and expand horizons. We are expanding the study into a second phase that encompasses veterans, first responders, family members, care givers and health care professionals. 

Founded in 2007, HOW is a 501(c)3 non-profit that provides recreational wellness experiences. The primary modality is kayak fishing which has proven cognitive and emotional benefits. These programs incorporate structured activities in a pressure-free environment creating opportunities for community building and personal healing. Our participants receive much needed camaraderie and support. 

In addition to the Therapeutic Programs, HOW has volunteer-led chapters across the U.S. that hold monthly kayak fishing events at no cost. These events provide a safe space for veterans, law enforcement officers, and first responders to share their experiences, decompress and connect with others who share similar backgrounds.  

When you support Heroes on the Water, you are supporting the mental health and well-being of U.S. military veterans, law enforcement officers, first responders and their families.  

To learn more about Operation Early Impact and download the Summary of Interim Reportgo to

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