By MADDY VITALE
Casting for Recovery is a nationwide nonprofit that offers retreats for women battling all stages of breast cancer. They learn to fly fish. They meet new friends, and they come together for a weekend of memories.
And on the weekend of Oct. 14-16, one of the retreats will be in Sea Isle City.
The mission of the Casting for Recovery retreat is to connect women with nature and others who have had breast cancer. The retreats are open to women with breast cancer of all ages, in all stages of treatment and recovery, according to the organization’s website, castingforrecovery.org.
Gerri Rescigno and Jackie Bradley, friends, breast cancer survivors and Dennis Township residents, are the retreat co-leaders for the Sea Isle event.
“We get out of it as much as the women who are on the retreat,” Rescigno said in an interview Wednesday. “There are so many of us who have come back each year to help.”
This year, 14 women were selected for the South Jersey retreat. They will stay at the Sisters of Mercy Vacation House in Sea Isle. After instruction and some practice, the culmination of the weekend will be showcased at Pine Haven Campground in Dennis Township, where the fly-fishing skills will go to work.
The relaxing weekend begins Friday, Oct. 14, when the group of women will be fitted for their wader boots and introduced to the others in the retreat.
In addition to the guests will be a host of volunteers. Many volunteers are former alumna of the retreats as breast cancer survivors, such as Rescigno and Bradley. There will also be a breast surgeon and a wellness coach, in addition to those from the hospitality industry who will prepare the meals.
And for the fun part — the fly fishing — will be fly fishing instructors from around the area.
On Saturday, the group will head to Dealy Field, where they will practice the motions to fly fish. Then on Sunday, they leave for Pine Haven Campground in Dennis Township off of Route 9. It is a new location for the fly fishing.
“They shout out and are so excited to catch the fish. Once the fishing is finished, we have a luncheon for everyone and then a little graduation for the women,” Rescigno explained. “We are done at about 4 p.m. on Sunday. We are exhausted at the end but so excited.”
Rescigno was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. Bradley was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. They both went on retreats far from their Cape May County homes. They wanted to offer a retreat to women in South Jersey. In 2009, the South Jersey retreats began and around 2012 Sea Isle City was selected for one of the weekend outings.
“We get so much out of volunteering for the retreats each year,” Rescigno noted. “It draws us back every year.”
The retreats are free. Like other nonprofits, Casting for Recovery relies on donations.
Rescigno also credited the many volunteers who help out each year to make the retreat a success, noting, the fly fishing instructors from the South Jersey Coastal Fly Anglers, which is based in Ocean City.
Casting for Recovery was founded in 1996 in Manchester, Vt., by a breast reconstruction surgeon and a professional fly fisher. It became a nonprofit in 1998.
Wendy Gawlik, who is an alumna of Casting for Recovery, attended the 2014 retreat in Vermont.
She has been working for the nonprofit ever since. She is the regional program manager who oversees the retreats in the northeast in the nationwide organization.
There were no retreats due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. But this year there are 50, Gawlik said.
“This is probably our largest year,” Gawlik said. “When they first began, we had four retreats in a year. It has grown so much since.”
And while fly fishing is certainly an important and therapeutic component to the retreat, there is much more to it.
“Our motto within the organization is, it is all about the fishing, but it is not about the fishing,” Gawlik said. “We are gathered to learn about fly fishing, but the people are there to be out in nature and get a respite in your daily journey with breast cancer.”
For more information or if you know someone who would like to apply for next year’s retreat, visit castingforrecovery.org. Donations may also be made through the website.