Justin Clenard grew up in Tehachapi, CA, and joined the Marine Corps just after high school. He became a machine gunner, deploying to Ramadi, Iraq in both 2005 and 2007. Shortly after returning and by then a sergeant, he volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan.
One fateful day, while moving out with a squad of Marines, Justin and one of his other Marines, within seconds of each other, stepped on pressure-activated explosive devices. Shortly after this incident, Justin woke up in Germany, missing both legs. He was again fighting for his life, not against insurgents, but deadly blood clots.
“It was a miracle I survived,” Justin recalls.
But survive he did, and he continued therapy for both physical and mental wounds at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, CA.
While there, he was contacted by Dan Cook, the founder of the non-profit Rivers of Recovery Program, who invited him to go along on a fly-fishing trip.
“I started walking on my new prosthetic legs six weeks to the day after I stepped on my IED. Two weeks later I was on a plane to go fishing in Utah,” Justin says. “I had never been fly-fishing before, I could barely walk, and my wheelchair was 800 miles away.”
While initially nervous about handling a boat, Justin caught a fish after only a few casts. At that moment, the fish was hooked, but so was the fisherman. When he returned to San Diego, he convinced a few fellow Marines to join him on another trip, including the other Marine, also an amputee, who was injured with him.
After his discharge from the Marine Corps at the end of 2009, Justin continued to think about fishing. Not content to wait for spring, he journeyed to Argentina to fish the waters of Pategonia.
“My life was exactly how I wanted it,” he says.
So deep was his passion for the sport, and his dedication to his brethren, he decided to help other veterans. He became a guide for Rivers of Recovery in 2011, helping others with Post Traumatic Stress and other disabilities discover fishing as an alternative treatment.
“I have fished in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean, with catches ranging from Red Fish to Lobsters to Mako Sharks,” Justin says. “I have fished in almost every state in America, including for HUGE Salmon in Alaska. I live and breathe Fly Fishing; it’s more powerful than any drug.”
He recalls that first trip to Green River. “The scenery, the fish, the company of good people, and the excellent food were exactly what I needed after dealing with five years of violence. Fishing gives me peace in my life.”
Find out more about Rivers of Recovery by visiting their website.
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