BY SHERI TRUSTY
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Priscilla Reyes of Wisconsin returned from her fifth deployment in the Middle East physically wounded and mentally distraught. Her injuries changed the reality of daily living, and she struggled to adjust to civilian life.
“I served from 2007 to 2020, and then I retired due to injuries I sustained oversees,” Reyes said. “When my career came to an end, I struggled with coping, with survivor skills, and with negative feelings. I used and abused alcohol to cope, along with the meds I was on.”
Reyes voluntarily entered rehab and has been sober for 11 months. Yet even with this new victory, she still felt isolated from the world.
Then Walleye for Wounded Heroes (W4WH) stepped in. The mission of W4WH is to provide connection and rejuvenation – through fishing – to military personnel and First Responders who have been wounded in combat or in the line of duty.
“It’s all about the healing waters of Lake Erie,” said W4WH Vice President Chip Hall. “It’s all about healing and what that means to different people.”
W4WH hosted a fishing event for 73 heroes from 22 states in Marblehead on June 7-11. Aside from transportation to Marblehead, everything was paid for, including meals, lodging and three days of fishing. Reyes attended the Marblehead event on the recommendation of a friend.
An officer Reyes once worked with, Master Sgt. Thomas Fischer, attended a W4WH event a few years ago and suggested Reyes go this year. She was hesitant because her injuries prevent her from fishing independently.
“He told me, ‘They’ll help you with everything. There’s something healing about Lake Erie. You need to go,’” Reyes said.
She did, and the experience changed her life, leaving her with a greater sense of purpose.
“It helped me be able to step out of my shell,” she said. “It definitely helped to be around fellow service members and talk through some issues with people who can relate.”
The event felt like a celebration of her military service.
“It was like another welcome home, but the right way. I came home injured, so I came home alone. This was the welcome home I didn’t get,” she said.
In the midst of the camaraderie, appreciation and healing was a whole lot of fun, especially when Reyes caught the biggest fish of the event, an 8.92-pound, 31.5-inch walleye. The fish qualified for the Fish Ohio Recognition Program, an ODNR program that recognizes anglers for significant catches. Walleye must be a minimum of 28 inches to qualify.
“I knew it was a tank by the way it felt. It was quite a fish to bring in,” Reyes said. “I tell everyone I asked God for a big fish, and he gave me the biggest one.”
Through the W4WH, God also gave her healing.
“I’m just very grateful I got picked to go,” she said.