By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – On Sunday, Sept. 9, with the smoke from area wildfires having dissipated to deliver one of the clearest, bluebird days in recent weeks, 14 women stood around the circumference of a pond at 320 Ranch. Each woman was geared up in waders and vests, and held identical fly rods, while receiving pointers from their own personal fishing guide.

It was the final day of a retreat held by Casting for Recovery, the Bozeman-based organization that provides women in any stage of breast cancer or recovery the opportunity to experience the therapeutic benefits of fly fishing, nature and the camaraderie of other survivors—completely free of charge.

With 1,800 volunteers worldwide, Casting for Recovery hosts retreats in 45 states, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Italy.

The Spanish Peaks Community Foundation made a $3,000 grant donation to this year’s Big Sky retreat at 320 Ranch, two-and-a-half days of outfitted fly-fishing lessons, group sessions, gifts and, according to the participants, exceptional meals. Foundation president and founder John Haas was on scene to present a check symbolic of the donation to the organization.

Retreat leader Fran McNeill, a volunteer with the nonprofit since 1998 and a 24-year cancer survivor, said her involvement with the nonprofit is her way of giving back.

“We work really hard to fundraise to keep this going,” she said. “Many of our women don’t necessarily get the support they need. They rarely get the opportunity to spend 48 hours with other women who truly understand. We create a safe space for women to share encouragement, support and have fun in the therapeutic environment of nature.”

Participants are selected by a lottery process and capped at 14 women from the state or region of each particular retreat.

Gail Ellis, a 71 year old from Billings who’s “been out 22 years,”—a way of saying how long you’ve been cancer-free—said she likes to listen to the other women on the retreat, who may be younger or at an earlier stage in the disease, and who appreciate her perspective, or just her ear.

This was Ellis’ first time fly fishing and she said she’s ready to go home and “beat her husband” at the sport.

“It’s been so wonderful,” she said about the retreat experience. “Everyone has been so helpful and they have spoiled us royally.”

Most volunteers were once participants that were inspired by the retreat experience.

Teresa Wicks, 63, got involved with Casting for Recovery four years ago, and is part of the retreat staff focused on hospitality.

“The weekend touched me in a way that was surprising,” Wicks said of her own experience as a participant. “It’s kind of like a ‘kid going to camp’ sort of thing. Being with the other women you don’t have to explain anything. This is really a weekend for the women—you don’t have to cook, clean, think about anyone else … it’s a time to rejuvenate.”

Visit castingforrecovery.org to learn more about the organization. Visit spanishpeaksfoundation.org to learn about grant opportunities available through Spanish Peaks Community Foundation.