Force Fly Fishing, Inc.(“Force”) started as a chance meeting between a long-time fly fishing guide and published fly tier and a talented engineer who was developing a fly tying vise of his own. Working closely together and collaborating on ideas to revolutionize the fly tying vise, these two men designed an exciting, ground-breaking, feature-filled vise called The Predator Fly Tying Vise.
But the company’s mission goes far beyond designing and manufacturing fly tying and fly fishing products that will change the industry, Force is on a mission to help disabled U.S. Military combat veterans ("Vets"), and others suffering from traumatic brain injuries (“TBIs”) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), and here’s why….
KJ Evans, one of the founders of Force is a long time fly fisherman, fly fishing guide, fly tying instructor, and published fly tier. As a child KJ spent every free moment fly fishing the rivers and streams of northern California and learning to tie flies from the renowned fly tier, Mike Mercer, at The Fly Shopin Redding, California.
In his early twenties, KJ suffered a TBI, while living in southern California. He woke in a hospital and was told he had been in a coma for 6 weeks, nearly died on the operating table two times, and was now suffering from severe frontal lobe damage. Little did he know at the time, relearning many elementary, involuntary skills and adjusting to the loss of his sense of smell and taste, would be the least of his struggles.
Not long thereafter, KJ convinced his buddies to move with him to Summit County, Colorado to snowboard, fly fish, and start a new life. The mountains of Colorado, in particular Copper Mountain, offered KJ a new lease on life. Although he now struggled with many skills that were previously second-nature to him prior to his TBI, KJ found a sustainable career as a fly fishing guide… the one thing he could still do to without the embarrassment of constant failure. Sharing his love of fly fishing and fly tying with others brought him great joy. But behind the scenes his TBI was getting worse and having more and more negative effects on his life.
Years later, he and his future wife, Laura Evans, would meet at Copper Mountain in front of Camp Hale Coffee. He and Laura fell quickly in love. Inseparable from day one, they had a fairy tale romance, spending their early days snowboarding, fly fishing, and playing in the mountains of Summit County, Colorado. Immature and extremely optimistic, they were married just a few months later and a few months after that, they were expecting a child. Their daughter, Linet Evans, was born soon thereafter. But the “Salad Days” soon ended.
KJ and Laura struggled as a new family and did not yet understand the cause of the issues they were facing as these were issues other families were not dealing with. Even if they had understood KJ’s TBI was at the root of their difficulties, this was the early days of the world-wide-web and there was no information online regarding TBIs, medical and psychiatric treatment for them, support groups for TBI survivors or their families and caretakers, or any other pertinent information.
After a couple years of struggle and the blessing of a scholarship, Laura decided to attend law school at the University of Denver(DU). Meanwhile, she watched as KJ grew more and more depressed at his inability to maintain work and support his family. He became suicidal, depressed, angry, frustrated, embarrassed, scared, and felt he had been cursed. His TBI caused irate outbursts (another symptom they were not aware of at the time). Furthermore, they still did not understand that all of these symptoms were related to his TBI/PTSD.
KJ (and the rest of society) just chalked it up to him being the loser that everyone always told him he was. As a result, he was in and out of counseling and mental stabilization units, struggling to keep it together. Yet, these facilities entirely failed to link his behavior to his TBI and continuously misdiagnosed him with serious psychoses, placing him on drugs that made his behavior worse, much more frightening, and literally putting everyone in the Evans family in danger.
Until one day in 2010, by chance, Laura came across a website about symptoms of frontal lobe damage as a result of a TBI and it all suddenly clicked… As she went down the list of symptoms, it dawned on her that KJ could have been a poster-child for people with frontal-lobe damage. She was overwrought with emotion. Here was the answer to all of the hell they had been through!!!!
Laura was in tears as she explained to KJ how every single symptom that he had experienced over the years, was associated with his TBI/frontal-lobe damage and PTSD. They began to wonder why the mental health care industry failed to link his behavioral issues to his TBI. Unfortunately, this is a common story for TBI survivors, because misdiagnosis is rampant.
Soon thereafter, KJ found a wonderful woman in Summit County, Colorado who knew a great deal about TBIs and her treatment actually helped enormously. It wasn’t until then, things began to improve.
After law school, Laura practiced in criminal defense and family law. Her knowledge about TBIs helped her educate the Courts and others about TBIs. She assisted clients with TBIs suffering similar hurdles that KJ dealt with. She loved her practice, but it was wearing on her quickly.
As a result, Laura’s health declined rapidly. She had a thick layer of psoriasis on her scalp; she learned that her neck was bending in the wrong direction; her knee and other joints were swollen and giving out on her; and, she could barely get out of bed due to pain and exhaustion. Laura soon learned she had a neurological disorder and psoriatic arthritis, an incurable autoimmune inflammatory disease that attacks the joints, cartilage, organs, and tendons, for which stress was the number one trigger. Her doctors made clear that it was her career or her health; yet, she was the “breadwinner”. She chose to step away from her career in hopes preserving the joints that had not yet been affected.
The Evans family were now at a crossroads. Laura was no longer able to support her family and while KJ had success and acclaim as a fly-tier, it did not come with any financial reward. Something had to give…
About this time, Kevan was looking to buy a new fly-tying vise but refused to purchase any of the vises currently on the market. He was furious that the industry had made no significant innovations in decades. Worse, he was appalled that a major vise-manufacturer had introduced a “deluxe” $600 version of the same old vise they always produced (with one small, useless added feature) at a time when so many people were financially destitute. He wanted more and had been milling over ideas for vises in his head for many years.
This is when fate stepped in and KJ met Chris, an engineer who was dabbling in building a fly-tying vise. They began working closely together and developed a truly groundbreaking feature-filled fly-tying vise called “The Predator.” The Predator was designed to address many common complaints that KJ and others had over the years and was designed to assist those with certain disabilities.
The Evans family started Force Fly Fishing, Inc.to bring revolutionary, American-made products to the fly-tying industry, designed for people with disabilities in mind. And they started it from basically nothing, selling everything they could, moving into a 27-foot motorhome, and handling all aspects of the business on their own in an effort to keep costs down and achieve their goals. But something was missing, and they felt that through FFF they might have an opportunity help others and share what they’d learned about TBIs.
Traumatic Brain Injuries (“TBIs”) are the “leading cause of deathand disability in the United Statesfor individuals under the age of 45,” and they “occur more frequently than AIDS, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injury combined.” See Endnote i, on the list of Endnotes, attached hereto.
In their day to day lives, TBIs frequently overwhelm survivors and their families and/or caretakers but it doesn’t end there. Society is currently blind to this epidemic. It will take education and understanding before this devastation can change.
Often, individuals with TBIs do not possess the same social skills or, “filter”, the rest of us have, so they say and do things that those of us without TBIs find inappropriate and unacceptable. Disclaimer: keep in mind, not all brain injuries are alike, so this does not apply to everyone that has sustained a TBI or a brain injury. Despite the fact that TBIs are severe damage to one of the most important organs of the body, i.e. the brain, many in society do not yet have empathy for individuals with TBIs, like they do for those with damage to other organs of the body (for example loss of limbs or eyesight). This lack of empathy and understanding of a TBI’s survivor’s lack of a social filter results in them being considered contemptible, loathsome, and distasteful.
Our brave men and women in the United States Military are one of the main reasons that TBIs have become a topic of conversation, concern, and research:See Endnote ii.
Within the last decade much scientific research has been completed on the effects of brain injury on the individual as well as the social and family system effects. This surge in brain injury research is largely due to the number of veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries as well as the rise in reports of sports related concussions.
This research brought to light just how pervasive TBIs are in America today and yet, most are blind to the effects of TBIs on survivors, families, and society in general and many are unaware of what a TBI or “brain injury” is: See Endnote iii
The devastation of brain injury can be seen through the numbers of incidence and the research completed about the large range of effects. As the leading cause of death and disability in the United States for individuals under the age of 45, brain injuries occur more frequently than AIDS, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injury combined. Despite the pervasiveness of brain injuries and the recent increase in research completed, brain injury remains the “silent epidemic” due to the lack of public knowledge regarding the research that has been done surrounding the topic as well as the high number of undiagnosed and misdiagnosed acquired and traumatic brain injuries. According to a recent national survey, only one in three Americans are familiar with the term “brain injury” (University of Pennsylvania Center for Brain Injury and Repair). Also, each year countless brain injuries go undiagnosed as a result of under awareness, underreporting, under diagnosis and misdiagnosis. The large number of undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries creates a worrisome problem due to the proven links between head injury and mental illness, criminality and substance abuse.
Shocking statistics reveal the enormous number of TBI survivors who fill our jails and prisons (See Endnote iv), end up homeless on the street, (See Endnote v),and/or end up in institutional mental treatment facilities (See Endnote vi), and many of these are US Vets (See Endnote vii).Symptoms of TBI include markedly increased depression and suicide rates; increased anger and irritability; decreased short term and long-term memory; inability to return to or maintain employment, school, or homemaking; increased incidence of substance abuse and criminal behavior; and, the list goes on and on. See Endnote viii. Furthermore, many TBI survivors suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which only compounds the negative effects of a TBI. SeeEndnote. ix. And while many states have introduced legislation to protect and assist US Vets and others with TBIs, sadly Colorado is not among them yet. SeeEndnote x.
More recently, however, there have been multiple initiatives to assist those with TBIs in the prison population, particularly US Vets, and there is hope on the horizon for changed legislation.SeeEndnote xi. The following link contains a video of Kimberly Gorgens, Clinical Professor, of the DU Psychology Department (DUPD) who is spearheading a collaborative project between the DUPD, the Brain Injury Alliance, and certain Colorado Courts and Sheriff’s Departments, in hopes of bringing change to the Criminal Justice System for TBI survivors:
The TBI survivors are not alone in their frustration and despair. Their loved ones and caretakers struggle alongside them, dealing with the survivor’s depression, anger, frustration, and inability to maintain employment. Witnessing the suffering their loved ones and family member’s experience only magnifies the survivor’s already pervasive depression, hurt, and hopelessness. It is a vicious cycle, which only those that suffer from TBIs and their loved ones and caretakers can truly understand. In the words of two of those who have studied this phenomenon“[a] brain injury is never an isolated incident. Brain injuries can ‘collapse a family and flatten a business, evaporate friendships and allegiances, overburden a community, and buckle a state’s health care system.’” SeeEndnote xii.
Americans pride themselves on having empathy and tolerance for those with disabilities. Certainly, no one would scoff at a blind man for knocking over or running into objects he or she could not see. Yet, think of the common reaction to an individual panhandling on the street. If that individual has no visible disabilities, many assume they are perfectly healthy and only panhandling because they are too lazy to get a job. However, this perception often changes to empathy if the panhandler is in a wheelchair and/or has visible disabilities. People don’t realize that many of those perfectly healthy-looking individuals are TBI survivors, many of them US Vets, who suffer from one of the most common but devastating disabilities known to man. SeeEndnote xiii.
Unlike those with visible disabilities, TBI survivors are frequently scoffed at, belittled, and insulted because society cannot see their scars and cannot understand why these individuals do not live up to society’s expectations for “healthy-looking” individuals. Yet, the damage they endure is as pervasive as those who have lost limbs, eyesight, etc. and in many ways worse because it’s damage to one of the most crucial organs in the body… the brain. But instead of being extended a helping hand, empathy, and a caring smile, they are often treated like psychopaths, and labeled as “losers” and “bums.”
Given all that the Evans family learned and endured, they felt it was is not only their passion but their duty to bring more awareness about TBIs to the general public and to give back to US Vets who’ve given years of their lives and sacrificed a great deal to protect the freedoms Americans often take for granted, yet, are compensated very little to do so. Even worse, once they return home having suffered a TBI, many are unable to find and/or to maintain a job and can no longer support their families. The Evans family knew they had to do something.
The Evans family looked around at programs that assist TBI survivors through fly-fishing and fly-tying. While they understood that fly-fishing and tying is rehabilitative, they also knew the importance of being able to find and maintain a source of employment after a TBI. They decided to merge fly-fishing/tying with vocational rehabilitation.
It is Force Fly Fishing’s goal to provide US Vets who are TBI survivors with a source of sustainable income through the fly-fishing and tying industry, in the hopes that they regain much-deserved pride or at the very least the ability to buy their loved ones gifts during the Holidays. While there are already many non-profits assisting US Vets using fly-fishing and tying, what makes their program unique is the vocational rehabilitation element.
Also, Force Fly Fishing has designed its vise and vise attachments that will assist those with disabilities, i.e. a “third-arm” attachment called the Backsnatch Bobbin-Cradle, which comes standard with The Predator and an attachment called the Flex Arm Smart Phone Attachment, which has many useful functions to assist those who have difficulty seeing their fly while tying. They are developing even more products, which will allow a broader range of people with disabilities to participate in fly-fishing and tying.
Force Fly Fishing, Inc. offers a discount to US Veterans and an even larger discount to disabled US Combat Veterans. If you believe you are eligible to receive a discount, please contact us for more information at (970) 409-0962.
i: Katelyn M. Ryan, The Self-Reported Needs and Reflections of Caregivers of Brain Injury Survivors(2014), p. 6—7, https://sophia.stkate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1384&context=msw_papersat 6-7, (citing to PW Buck, Mild traumatic brain injury: a silent epidemic in our practices(2011), https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8d01/c5876379e379b86e2cd7ee261b0f49fe6a99.pdf(emphasis added).
iv: Centers for Disease Control, Traumatic Brain Injury in Prisons and Jails:An Unrecognized Problem (https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/pdf/Prisoner_TBI_Prof-a.pdf); US News & World Report (US News) website, Casey Leins, Traumatic Brain Injury and Incarceration: Ending a Vicious Cycle(2018), https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2018-08-22/denver-based-project-exposes-link-between-brain-injury-and-incarceration; See also Brainline website, Traumatic Brain Injury Among Prisoners,https://www.brainline.org/sites/default/files/Traumatic%20Brain%20Injury%20Among%20Prisoners.pdf
vi: National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website, The effect of traumatic brain injury on the health of homeless people(2008), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553875/; Department of Veterans Affairs website, Lisa Brenner, Ph.D., Traumatic Brain Injury among the Homeless: Current State of the Science and Clinical Implications 2012 PowerPoint Presentation), https://www.mirecc.va.gov/visn19/presentations/docs/Health_Care_for_Homeless_Website.pdf
vi: NCBI website, Mental Illness, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Medicaid Expenditures(2007),https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805461/
vii:The News & Observer website, The Tragedy of Our Incarcerated Veterans and Service Members (2016), https://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article61145752.html; Justice Center: The Council of State Governments website, PowerPoint Presentation by Ashley Bridwell, LMSW, and Ross MacDonald, MD, Traumatic Brain Injury in the Criminal Justice Population, https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/TBI-Slides-2.11.14.pdf; US Department of Veterans Affairs website, Mike Richman, Veterans and the criminal justice system(2018), https://www.research.va.gov/currents/0918-VA-researcher-examines-Vets-who-collide-with-criminal-justice-system.cfm
viii:The News & Observer website, The Tragedy of Our Incarcerated Veterans and Service Members (2016), https://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article61145752.html; Justice Center: The Council of State Governments website, PowerPoint Presentation by Ashley Bridwell, LMSW, and Ross MacDonald, MD, Traumatic Brain Injury in the Criminal Justice Population, https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/TBI-Slides-2.11.14.pdf; US Department of Veterans Affairs website, Mike Richman, Veterans and the criminal justice system(2018), https://www.research.va.gov/currents/0918-VA-researcher-examines-Vets-who-collide-with-criminal-justice-system.cfm
ix: NCBI website, Jonathon R. Howlett, Murray B. Stein, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Relationship to Traumatic Brain Injury and Approach to Treatment,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK326723/; Brainline website, Marilyn Lash, MSW, TBI and PTSD: Navigating the Perfect Storm, https://www.brainline.org/article/tbi-and-ptsd-navigating-perfect-storm
x: The News & Observer website, The Tragedy of Our Incarcerated Veterans and Service Members (2016), https://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article61145752.html; Justice Center: The Council of State Governments website, PowerPoint Presentation by Ashley Bridwell, LMSW, and Ross MacDonald, MD, Traumatic Brain Injury in the Criminal Justice Population, https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/TBI-Slides-2.11.14.pdf; US Department of Veterans Affairs website, Mike Richman, Veterans and the criminal justice system(2018), https://www.research.va.gov/currents/0918-VA-researcher-examines-Vets-who-collide-with-criminal-justice-system.cfm
xi: US News website, Casey Leins, Colorado Jail Helps Inmates Who Have Suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries(2018), https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2018-08-22/how-a-colorado-jail-is-helping-inmates-who-have-suffered-traumatic-brain-injuries; University of Denver website, Traumatic Brain Injury in Criminal Justice, https://www.du.edu/tbi/; see above, Footnote 2, US News website article Traumatic Brain Injury and Incarceration: Ending a Vicious Cycle; CBS Denver website, Shaun Boyd, Veterans Treatment Courts Help Those Struggling After Military Service(2017),https://denver.cbslocal.com/2017/01/06/veterans-treatment-courts-help-those-struggling-after-military-service/
xii:The News & Observer website, The Tragedy of Our Incarcerated Veterans and Service Members (2016), https://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article61145752.html; Justice Center: The Council of State Governments website, PowerPoint Presentation by Ashley Bridwell, LMSW, and Ross MacDonald, MD, Traumatic Brain Injury in the Criminal Justice Population, https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/TBI-Slides-2.11.14.pdf; US Department of Veterans Affairs website, Mike Richman, Veterans and the criminal justice system(2018), https://www.research.va.gov/currents/0918-VA-researcher-examines-Vets-who-collide-with-criminal-justice-system.cfm.
xii: See Endnote iv.