Life is Life (Part 7 of Michelle’s blog series)

by Michelle Karl

This is the 7th post for Michelle’s Summer blog series. Her previous SaraBella posts include, “Cancer, Set Me Free“, “Fuel For Growth“, “Floating Together“, “Just Love“, “Seeking Water” and “Taking Hold“. She has shared her insight about her 16 month battle with (against) stage 2 breast cancer as she adventures on a 3-week road/boat trip through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana & British Columbia — to fish, camp, explore, reflect, and rejoice. We hope you enjoy the last post of the series — thanks to Michelle for her honest, insightful, and beautiful reflections of her story. You can follow Michelle on FB @

Appreciation. You cannot both feel sorry for yourself and feel appreciation at the same time. The two feelings and actions contradict each other. In the last sixteen month I have had ample material in my life to do both.

During cancer, I did not allow myself to feel sorry for myself very often. I had little opportunity to do so anyway. I was an open book and let the people around me, to the best of my ability, know how I was doing and what I needed. The result was so much love and positive encouragement that I was able to remain positive, mostly. The one thing I did find myself missing was good ‘ol, belly laughing, fun. I anticipated that this vacation would be filled with a backlog of overdue fun. I would get to go mountain biking, camping, and hiking. I would learn a new sport and float through beautiful, pristine landscapes. I thought I would be so full of fun and happiness that maybe, I would just explode.

What I found was that life is life. Living in the present is not always easy and three weeks of vacation can sometimes feel like a little too much togetherness. There was a part of me that felt like I did not get all the laughter I was owed.

Then these moments would sneak in. Playing three looooong games of Uno in our tent, sleeping under the stars as a thunderstorm rolled in, watching my daughters get up on water-skis for the first time, playing PIG with my husband at the hot springs, taking river baths, doing yoga as I watched the sunset over a clear lake, catching my first fish on a dry fly. Time would stop.

The happiness did not show up the way I had expected. It was something more penetrating. It was peace and love and wonder and connection. It was looking at this beautiful world that we all live in and really, deeply and soulfully, appreciating the gifts that life has for all of us.

I remind my clients all the time that there is always struggle in our lives. Now I am reminding myself. It looks different for each of us. Nobody really has it easier or harder. We all have our burdens that we carry. We also have our gifts.

Life always pushes against the struggle. Life will win. It may feel like the good is hiding or stubbornly avoiding us at times, but the good is always there. We have to get past the judgment and the packaging. Sometimes our greatest gifts in life will be felt while we are in the midst of crisis. Sometimes, we need to reframe our experience, look around at what is in front of us so we can appreciate what the world holds.

Today I remind myself, not my clients, to loosen the grip. To let go of control and trust – that what is waiting for me is beautiful. I vow to watch more sunsets, find more water, count my blessings, and listen for the laughter. I hope that you can do the same.

Taking Hold (Part 6 of Michelle’s Series)

by Michelle Karl

This is the 6th post for Michelle’s blog series. Her previous SaraBella posts include, “Cancer, Set Me Free“, “Fuel For Growth“, “Floating Together“, “Just Love“ and “Seeking Water“. She has shared her insight about her 16 month battle with (against) stage 2 breast cancer as she adventures on a 3-week road/boat trip through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana & British Columbia — to fish, camp, explore, reflect, and rejoice. We hope you enjoy this post — about 2 weeks into her trip. We’re honored that Michelle is sharing her story with us, so we can share it with you!

My husband and I cannot get into a float boat without arguing. I do not know what the learning curve is on learning how to fly fish or teaching someone to fly fish but it seems to me that the learning curve is a slow and steady uphill.

Today we floated the Yellowstone. We continue to do some things better and still argue about others. What we did right today – we prepped the day before, we woke up early, and we were on the river by seven-ish.

The river was magnificent. The temperature was perfect. The sun was coming over the mountains. I started to row and I felt like I was getting the hang of it. The river was flowing faster than the last two rivers but it was wide open with no rapids or rocks. There were times that it felt like the boat was dancing on the water and I got to be the one who was leading. It was a peaceful meditative dance.

Then it went wrong. I can be a bad student; I will leave it at that. It isn’t that I do not want to learn, it is that it is not an easy thing to learn. Are there any other women who row out there? Did your husband try to teach you? Are you still happily married?

My husband took over the rowing half way through and my daughter started to fish the front of the boat. Right away she caught her first fish. She caught her second minutes latter. She was super happy. I decided to try my cast off the back, away from any watchful eyes. I watched as a fish came up and started to check out my dry fly, poking at it. Then he surfaced and took a big mouthful of fake fly. He was not big but he was really beautiful. He was a cutthroat trout; the red marking across his throat was clear, his stunning calling card.

The day as a whole was a win. The scenery was spectacular. I started to really enjoy the task of rowing and I held my first fish. Persistence is starting to pay off. I think the sport is starting to take hold of me.

Seeking Water (Part 5 of Michelle’s series)

by Michelle Karl

This is the 5th post for Michelle’s blog series. Her previous SaraBella posts include, “Cancer, Set Me Free“, “Fuel For Growth“, “Floating Together“, and “Just Love“. She has shared her insight about her 16 month battle with (against) stage 2 breast cancer as she adventures on a 3-week road/boat trip through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana & British Columbia — to fish, camp, explore, reflect, and rejoice. We hope you enjoy this post — about 2 weeks into her trip. We’re honored that Michelle is sharing her story with us, so we can share it with you!

Day 12
I have always felt drawn to the water. I know that. I am sure that when I was young it started with play and social activities. The pool, the beach the creak behind my house where we found crayfish and water spiders. I loved the recreation that the water provided, I still do. However, now it goes deeper and I understand my connection in a more complete way.

In the Midwest, where I grew up, the lakes were where I found myself. In Colorado, it is the rivers. I know there is a spirituality connected to the water. Peace and Power. Ying and Yang.

It both cleanses me and grounds me. The life and the constant movement reminds me something much bigger than myself. It is always there breathing and moving. It is a relief and a comfort to have something unconditionally present for you. Something you can always seek if you choose. The water gives me that gift, and I am deeply grateful.

 

Just Love (Part 4 of Michelle’s series)

by Michelle Karl

This is the fourth post for Michelle’s blog series. Her previous SaraBella posts include, “Cancer, Set Me Free“, “Fuel For Growth” and “Floating Together“. She has shared her insight about her 16 month battle with (against) stage 2 breast cancer as she adventures on a 3-week road/boat trip through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana & British Columbia — to fish, camp, explore, reflect, and rejoice. She will continue to share reflections, adventures, challenges, and growth. We hope you enjoy this post — about 2 weeks into her trip. We’re honored that Michelle is sharing her story with us, so we can share it with you!

Day 12
My husband just went off to float the Elk River in Canada. This is his time to fish in peace without distraction. This is his passion, and I am glad he is getting this time. We have also been together quite a bit on this trip.

I was thinking about this yesterday as we were driving to get here. Do I really make the people I love better people? I know that I have faults. I know that we all have faults. But do I actively in some way or another help others to be the best of who they can be? What does that even mean? Does it mean that I help them to be successful or less annoying, or irritable, or kinder? I do not know if that is really in my control. I can try to teach, but most of the time, the teaching is my own agenda and fails. I can model, and hope that my target person picks up the lesson. I can invest all the energy I have into making change happen and then be disappointed when it doesn’t…

Or I can just love. It seems that it always comes back to the simplest answer. I can love when it is difficult and when it is unpleasant. I can love enough to provide a safe place and acceptance. I can take all the love I have been shown in my entire life and give it back. I can use that love to give me the energy and the confidence to admit when I am wrong and not always need an apology when someone else is.

Cancer validated the love in my life. I was alone in my personal suffering but I was never truly alone. We are never truly alone. There is a bigness in our world, in life and living. There is a connectivity that we cannot avoid. In humbling ourselves to love intimately and imperfectly we can never be alone.

Floating Together (Part 3 of Michelle’s series)

by Michelle Karl

This is the third post for Michelle’s blog series. Her first SaraBella blog post, “Cancer, Set Me Free” shared her insight about her 16 month battle with (against) stage 2 breast cancer. Then she wrote, “Fuel For Growth” which was part 2 of this series. Michelle’s family is on a 3-week road/boat trip through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana & British Columbia — to fish, camp, explore, reflect, and rejoice. She will continue to share reflections, adventures, challenges, and growth. We hope you enjoy her 3rd post, about 1 week into her trip. We’re honored that Michelle is sharing her story with us, so we can share it with you!
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I have been keeping my own personal journal as the days have passed. To be honest, I was not sure that I could share the train wreck we were the first few days. Trying to have four grown people on one fly fishing boat with only one person that knows anything at all about fly fishing is a recipe for disaster.

We floated the Henry’s fork… twice. The first time was so stressful we decided to do it again just to prove that we could. On the second day we did it, it took a fraction of the time to find the put in and to get all rigged up. After that, we had the same stresses we did on the first day. The high point for me was that I caught my first fish. My youngest caught three. However, as a family we struggled to come together. The amount of fish you catch can bring momentary joy but does not necessarily create a joyful, appreciative, presence on a river.

Day after day, I would come down to the river to journal. I wanted to figure out how we could logistically do things differently and have a better experience. I am a mom. I am always trying to figure these things out.

To add to that, I realized that in the last year and a half we have all been on our own journeys. We have lived in the same house but our lives have gone in different directions. We were all functioning on our own agendas when we got into the boat. I found that at the end of day three I was praying that we could all just come together.

We were not even sure if we were going to continue on with my husband’s boat. The thought was somewhat heartbreaking. To think that after building his own boat and having to delay the trip a year, the process would be too stressful to continue. We decided to take a break for a day and think it over.

Day 5
We decided not to give up. After a day of relaxation we decided, by unanimous vote, that we would try again. This time on a 12-mile section of the Blackfoot River. We started early and put in at 8. We had been told that the section we were doing would take about six hours. That was daunting for our family, considering that a four hour float on Henry’s fork turned into 6 hours.

First, I have to say this river section was AMAZING. At the put in, the water was so clear that you could see the bottom perfectly. Each rock had its own color, when you put them all together, and looked at them in the sunlight, it resembled the scales on a rainbow trout.

Today, I was more confident rowing, my husband did a short casting tutorial prior to shoving off and we all vowed to untangle our own fly’s. It worked. We managed not to have any major arguments, crying episodes, or cursing. Plus we actually floated the whole 12 miles in 6 ½ hours, not bad… however, not a single fish was caught.

Today’s success was in coming together. In enjoying the river and each others successes even if there were no fish at the end of the day. I also have to mention that my agenda of reflection, observation and gaining perspective on the past sixteen months has to take a back seat to our family just being together.

My daughter just informed me that my hair looks gross. I informed her that she was not invited to comment. Our next stop is Whitefish, Montana. This is where resort living and mountain biking will be put on the schedule. Maybe, then I can do something with my hair.

Fuel for Growth (Part 2 of Michelle’s series)

by Michelle Karl

Michelle’s first SaraBella blog post, “Cancer, Set Me Free” shared her insight about her 16 month battle with (against) stage 2 breast cancer. The below post, “Fuel For Growth” is part 2 of this series. Michelle’s family is beginning a 3-week road/boat trip through Wyoming, Idaho, Montana & British Columbia — to fish, camp, explore, reflect, and rejoice. She will continue to share reflections, adventures, challenges, and growth. We’re honored that Michelle is sharing her story with us, so we can share it with you. Enjoy!

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We are on the eve of departure. We still do not know where we will go first. My husband has long awaited his chance to fish the big rivers of Montana. He has several in mind, but fate, timing, logistics, and our direction will all play a part in where we first land.

I think that may be true in life, too. We always have choice, it is a gift. However, our choice, intention, and desire do not always dictate our direction or where we land.

I was recently reading Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy”. They talk about post traumatic stress, a consequence of facing a crisis or trauma that shakes our lives. It happens when something that was previously safe in our lives becomes unknown. Often, there is a loss that is part of the picture. It can be scary and overwhelming.

However, psychologists have now learned that there is another outcome. Post Traumatic Growth. I already like this better. The term applies to how some people can take a traumatic experience in their life and find good. They grow, they learn, they change, they empower themselves. What they have survived becomes the motivator and inspiration for them to seek out better, more fulfilling experiences in their lives.

This is what I am committed to. My suffering and my family’s suffering over the last year will not be wasted. It was not just about concurring breast cancer and walking through it gracefully. It is also about learning from it and improving who I am and the choices I make.

I do not want to use the next three weeks to forget about the last year and a half. I want to use the next three weeks to cement it in my memory. To use it as fuel to keep me committed to being the best, most loving person I can be.

I am not exactly sure where I will end up. I have an idea of where I would like to go, but just like the question of where we will first fish, I don’t have the answer. Just the motivation to get there and the absolute trust that I will.

Cancer, Set Me Free

by Michelle Karl

Michelle connected to SaraBella through a colleague of her husband, and a dear friend of April. When April met Michelle, she was inspired by her story, by her authentic battle with breast cancer, and by Michelle’s adventures ahead. We will share Michelle’s journey on our website and social media – through fishing, reflecting, exploring, and discovering. Her family will float various rivers in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and British Columbia. We’re all cheering for health, fun, and for cancer to set her free.

This is a special Mother’s Day.

I am asking for an unusual gift, I am asking for my own peace.

I am an overachiever, a perfectionist and a caretaker.  I am also a therapist so I know that my tendencies are rooted in a fear of not being good enough… a fear that the people I love will see my faults and leave.

Over a year ago I was diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer.  Today, I have completed: a double mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, nineteen radiation treatments, 16 rounds of Herceptin, and one reconstructive surgery.  This last year has shaken me.

In hindsight, I can see that my body braced itself for the assault.  I lived my life, I performed in my roles as a wife, a mother, a friend.  I had low expectations for myself during treatment.  I bowed down to cancer and embraced my vulnerability, asked for help, thanked God for my good and bad days, and survived.  This week I was talking with my daughter and she expressed that although the year had challenges, cancer had also brought blessings to our family.  I can see that as well.

Greg and Michelle’s daughter…and their boat

Despite all that we endured last year, enveloped in a loving community of friends and family I was able to remain positive, for the most part.  However, it is now, that I have found myself to be more pessimistic and critical, especially of my physical  body.  I have gained weight, my jeans are too tight, I do not like my hair, I have scars, the list goes on.

When I look at my physical self I see myself falling short.  I often do not see someone who is accomplished or strong, maybe even lovable.  I have tried to run away from these messages all my life by doing more. Preforming at work, preforming athletically, preforming in the care for my children, my home and my marriage.  Using my body as the shell that orchestrates it all.  Looking at the surface of what my body was showing to others as a reflection of what I was worth underneath.

Michelle’s daughter

There is no more shell. There cannot be.  It is only me.  It has deeply saddened me that I have not been able to accept the power that my body has shown this year.  How can I possible berate this physical body?  This body that, not only survived this year but has been able to show strength and courage and grace and vulnerability.

How can I not be thankful to this body that allowed me to wake up everyday and somehow go for a walk?  The body that allowed me to laugh and love in the midst of a crisis.

Intellectually, I know I should feel differently.  But when will I believe?   My body wants to be acknowledged for all it needs and all its strength, for the reality of all it does.  I am just starting to understand this.  My body wants its voice to be heard.  To stop the performance. To stop running and accept the nurturance that I can give it by listening in the quiet.

Michelle on the boat they built

This week my husband and I had the opportunity to meet with April, the founder of SaraBella Fishing.  We talked about being out in nature and the healing that can happen there, in the quiet. We talked about breast cancer, about empowering women and gaining self awareness and strength.  She told me about an organization that teaches women diagnosed with breast cancer how to fly fish, I am a novice.  We talked about my families three week, summer fly fishing and camping trip and the opportunity to use that time that time to heal.

I am looking for peace. Cancer has certainly impacted my life.  Yet I know the cancer did not get me  The cancer may be what sets me free.

Jim Sawyer

written by April Archer

Our beloved friend and SaraBella team member, Jim Sawyer, has passed away this morning. In the past few weeks, his beautiful family (and so many friends) have surrounded him with love. He is ready to begin his next chapter. Please keep Jim’s family in your thoughts and prayers.

We have learned many things from “Grandpa Jim”. We’ve learned about serving our country, working hard, studying in school (and in life), being thankful, and enjoying the power and beauty of water. He taught us that perfection doesn’t exist, that we all make mistakes, and that life is a gift that should never be taken for granted.

A few years ago, when SaraBella was in its infancy, we were defining how we wanted to hire, build rods, and make an impact. As we searched for new team members, we learned about Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) and their rod-building program.

When I reached out to Jim (he was the leader of the rod-building program at Denver PHWFF) he took us under his wing, taught us, inspired us, befriended us, and let us into his life. Jim became our “Head Rod-Wrapper” and has been an incredible team member.

SaraBella rod by Jim (photo 5280 Magazine)

The last rod he wrapped, for Deb

If you have purchased a SaraBella fly rod in the past few years, there’s a high probability that “a Veteran named Jim” wrapped it. He has also trained and taught our team members with techniques that make our rods so special.

Soon after he began working with SaraBella, Jim told me about the anniversary of the passing of his daughter, Julie. She battled cancer, and Jim was deeply saddened by her loss. When he shared this with me, I asked him to write a blog, entitled “Honoring Julie” to recognize her. From that point forward, we had a really special connection.

When a tough and rugged Veteran uses his hands and his mind to create artistic fly rods, the result is amazing. He focuses, he measures, he counts, and he thinks about the person who will experience joy on the water with this fly rod. He always asked who the rod is for and where it’s going. I would tell him, “This one’s for a woman in Tennessee” or “This one’s for a teenage girl in Minnesota” or “This one is a ‘David Bowie’ tribute rod for a guide in Colorado”. When wrapping a rod, he reflected on his life, he worried about nothing, and he poured his love into each wrap.

Jim teaching SaraBella team

Jim often told people, “There are only two things that are certain – birth and death — the bookends. It’s what you do in the middle that matters most.” This is so true, and I feel so blessed that we have had the opportunity to be a part of his (and our) “middle”.

Jim and April, at an event

When my family went to Montana last summer, Jim sat down with me, over black coffee, to plan the route and the fishing. He told me that he lived in (I think it was) 7 towns which are now “ghost towns”. He shared stories  about the ranches he worked on, the cattle he tended, the rocks he threw, the winters he endured, the science he studied, his favorite fishing spots (especially the Big Hole) the crazy journey of war, family, education, love, loss, and life.

Jim Sawyer is with all of us every time we’re near water. He believes that water heals. Really heals. He believes that it can transform PTSD, ease depression, inspire hope, bring joy, give peace, and create life.

Thanks to Jim, we appreciate a Montana-style chicken fried steak, creamy ice cream, a tattered fly, perfect trim wraps, and bumpy dirt roads.

Jim at a SaraBella casting party

One of Jim’s beautiful rods

Jim teaches at an event

Jim Sawyer – you’re a “keeper”, we love you, our words cannot thank you enough, and we wish you great joy in your adventures ahead!

Real Men and Breast Cancer

by David McElwain

As of 2016, David is a member of the SaraBella fly tying and rod-building team. We are honored to know him, to learn from him, and to share adventures in fly fishing with him! Thanks to David for his courage an inspiration….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the leaves begin to turn, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is here and on my pink_ribbon_t670mind. I am a professional flyfisher and tier and spend most of my time on the rivers and lakes of Colorado. I am a man and a breast cancer survivor!

That’s right, I am male. Not only women HAVE BREAST CANCER…

During this season and year round remind your loved ones to soap up and feel for breast lumps.

As you turn your calendar make a note to remind your husband, boyfriend or lover to check.  Your teenage daughters and sons need to be virulent as well. This soapy check can change and save your life.

Something as little as a tugging on your shirt button should be investigated, don’t just write it off to weight gain. CHECK IT OUT!

Very few males get breast cancer, but it very aggressive and can’t be dismissed. I survived MOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAale Breast Cancer in 2015. It seemed like a never ending battle. If not for the support of my wife and friends, I would have quit!

As the leaves begin to turn, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is here and on my mind. Remember to CHECK IT OUT on the first of every month….REAL MEN CAN GET BREAST CANCER!

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More about David….

We are honored to have David McElwain as our first SaraBella fly tier. He is also a member of our SaraBella rod-wrapping team, and he does fantastic work. It’s an honor to bring his talents to you!

David has been fly fishing for over 40 years. As a youngster, he was taught the ways of fishing and nature by his grandfather and Dad on the shore at Bennett Springs, Missouri. He started with a cane pole and a wooly worm in the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOzark Hills. In his early 20’s, he started tying flies while working at a friend’s fly shop at Bennett Springs State Park. In 1999, David joined Bass Pro Shops as a member of the fly fishing team – as a tying and casting instructor. He later transferred to Denver to lead the efforts to open the store’s fly fishing department.

David is a certified Adaptive Fly Fishing Practitioner and enjoys teaching people to fly fish through various organizations including, Adaptive Fly Fishing, Wish of a Lifetime, and the Wounded Warriors. He is also a member of Trout Unlimited, the International Federation of Fly Fishers, and The Fly Dressers Guild.

David’s first book, Our Grandfathers’ Flies, a historical retrospective to fly tiers reaching the shores of a new world; which is fabulous tribute to flies tied with furs, feathers, and hairs. In the past year, David has been battling breast cancer. He is determined to beat this disease, and with support of his wife, Lauren, he is able to keep his hands and mind connected to the sport of fly fishing.

When asked why he supports the vision of SaraBella Fishing, David replied, “I applaud the efforts and tenacity to start any new business in this country, especially a fly rod company. I believe and salute your wisdom and mission to empower women to be part of what I believe to be the ultimate sport.”

Lake Lessons

by JT Archer

FullSizeRenderJT is the Chief Operating Officer for SaraBella Fishing. He brings a wealth of talent and experience to our team, and we appreciate all of his skills and insight. Whenever possible, he loves to fly fish (and spend time outdoors) with April, their children, friends, and family.

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