Each year in late winter, Craig Hospital patients and staff brave the elements on Lake Granby to be pulled by snowmobiles across the ice to a site they have staked tents at now for 12 years.
When Craig Director of Food Services Dale Diasparra started an ice fishing outing for patients and grads more than a decade ago, he didn’t know the impact that it would have. What began as a simple trip in 1992 when several Craig grads and staff members introduced Dale to ice fishing became a fixture in the Therapeutic Recreation's Adventure Program winter calendar.
“Fishing has been a passion of mine. So, ice fishing got me excited and it meant so much to them to be able to do it, I thought it would be great to let other patients do it, too,” Dale says. “It’s an experience they may never have again, never thought about doing before, and it’s neat for them to see what they’ll get out of it. It helps the patients realize that they can do anything they want, that their current limitations don’t hold them back.”
Dale has worked at Craig for more than 26 years, most of those years as Cafeteria Supervisor until a year and a half ago when he transitioned to Director of Food Services. Even with the additional responsibilities that come with his new position, he has made the ice fishing trip a priority in his work with Craig and its patients.
“It was important for me to continue with the ice fishing even after I became the director here because it’s so important for the patients,” Dale says. “We want the patients to know they can do anything they want to do, and we’ll help them figure how to do it and give them the opportunity to see how we do it. When they leave and go somewhere else, they can have some ideas. It gives them not only the opportunity to do it but to be successful, too, and to know that in the future, it’s all up to them, they can do what they want.”
For Dale and the patients who go on the ice fishing trip each year, family is a big part of the experience. Dale’s son, Chris, has helped with the ice fishing outing from the start and now is often accompanied by his wife and children. Patient families are also encouraged to attend because of the opportunity it presents for connection and bonding between family, patients, staff and peers.
“Dale really loves to fish, so he wanted to share that with people. My dad is really great. We always have such a fun time with him,” Chris says. “We look forward to it every year and get bummed if we have to cancel due to nasty weather. It’s so awesome for us. It’s our honor.”
Robert Paylor, a Craig outpatient with a spinal cord injury from California, went ice fishing for the first time with this year’s Adventure Program outing in March. He knew about Craig’s Therapeutic Recreation program before he transferred here as an inpatient and said that it made him excited to come to Craig for rehabilitation knowing he would not only be learning how to take care of daily tasks but also how to do things he enjoyed.
“It’s cool because I’m doing new things, things I’ve never done before in a situation where people tell you maybe you won’t be able to do the things you’ve done before, but I’m doing that and more,” Robert says. “The outdoor stuff is where I thought I would be limited, having to use your hands and trunk more, and those were the things I enjoyed so much. With fishing, I was thinking, ‘How am I going to be able to reel it in or just hold the rod?’, but now I’m going to go back home and can do stuff like that and I have all the tools. My therapy is awesome, just getting back out into the world and doing what I want to do and not being afraid to do it. I just feel confident. I’ve been working hard for it.”
Over the years, the Diasparras have connected with patients whose experiences ice fishing have motivated them in their lives after rehabilitation at Craig.
“One guy we got to take on a trip years ago was pretty down,” Chris says. “But he caught a fish and didn’t stop talking the whole trip back. And they said, ‘He’s a different guy!’ It was just one fish, but it changed his life. He’s back in his home now, and he’s hunting again; he never thought he’d be able to do that. And just catching that fish made him realize that his life was not over. For that, if just that one guy was all that we could inspire, it would be so worth it.”
For Dale, ice fishing has become a family affair and an annual staple in his work, allowing him to interact with patients on a more personal level outside the Food Services department.
“Being able to do this at Craig, it means the world to us,” Dale says. “Through the years, all that Craig has given myself and my son and the support of our family, it’s so neat to be able to give back and show other people how to do this and help patients. They might catch a fish, they might not, but it’s just to have fun and to bond with each other, because Craig is a family and this is part of it.”
Learn more about Craig’s Adventure Program outings for inpatients and grads.