DALLAS — Jim Dolan, the irrepressible founder of Heroes on the Water, was laid to rest Friday at Dallas-Fort Worth Military Cemetery. Dolan died on Oct. 7 of a heart attack.
Heroes on the Water, Dolan’s legacy, provides veterans, first responders and their families recreational therapy.
Dolan’s love of kayaking and fishing, his 13-year career in the U.S. Air Force, and the connections he made as a pilot for American Airlines over a quarter of a century were all elements for the beginning of HOW.
But it was Dolan’s gregarious nature, nestled in his 6’5” frame, that turned a love for the outdoors into a way for veterans and first responders to heal from the trauma of their experiences.
“Jim made you feel like you’d known him a long time,” says participant Craig Brashears. “He made everyone feel that way.”
Dolan learned to kayak in 2005. He had always loved to fish.
Gradually he realized that when on the water, veterans who were disabled physically and psychologically could recapture their freedom.
He took a group of disabled vets fishing, and they loved it.
The idea for HOW was born.
Over several years, Dolan cobbled together 62 chapters nationwide. There are rafts of success stories.
Among them that of Jason Austin, who was literally on the verge of suicide when a friend called an asked him to go kayak fishing.
“I had bought a shotgun and had it in my mouth when the call came,” Austin says.
Now, Austin is a HOW area coordinator who helps support all chapters.
The organization is mostly run by volunteers, who organize events, transport kayaks and fishing gear to outings, and provide lunch at them, all of which are free to participants.
Last year HOW served more than 9,000 vets, first responders and their families. Dolan’s idea was to make HOW easy to access. “When you vets get home,” he said, “we’ve got your backs.”
Full disclosure: I am a volunteer member of HOW’s national board. News 8’s Dale Hansen is HOW’s national spokesman.
HOW’s motto “Paddle, Fish, Heal,” sums up what Jim Dolan started.
All of us are working to preserve it.
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