Health June 25, 2012

Body and Soul


Reel Recovery
Battling Breast Cancer with a Fly Rod [pg. 2]

Reel Recovery [pg. 3]

Spin Doctors
Bike RX—A Prescription for Fitness [pg. 4]

Bicycling as a Form of Treatment  [pg. 5]

Finding Balance
Tibetan Tradition in Idaho [pg. 6]

A Sense of Well-Being [pg. 7]



With a Fly Rod

Breast-cancer survivor Dani Stern contemplates a cast on the Big Wood River. Photo by Nick Price.

Breast-cancer survivor Dani Stern contemplates a cast on the Big Wood River. Photo by Nick Price.


A calm afternoon standing in the current, meditatively casting, can be therapeutic, even healing for many fly fishers. For almost two decades now, a national non-profit organization called Casting for Recovery has shared this experience with thousands of women battling breast cancer.

The brainchild of a reconstructive breast cancer surgeon from Vermont, who realized that the repetitive motion of fly casting rehabilitates the soft tissues affected by breast cancer, Casting for Recovery (CFR) was founded in 1996. Since then, hundreds of retreats have been held—free of charge—for over 5,000 women throughout the country and beyond. In 2011 alone, 47 retreats were held in 32 states, including one in Idaho.

Each retreat hosts 14 women who have, or have had, breast cancer. Applicants are randomly selected to attend the retreats—their names are actually put on paint swatches and pulled out of a hat at their national office. The three-day retreats are structured to provide fly fishing instruction as well as medical advice, support and counseling. Seven to 10 volunteers work at each retreat, including oncologists, counselors and fly fishing instructors.

The Living Waters Ranch in Challis has hosted Idaho’s CFR retreat for the past four years. Hailey resident Dani Stern, who was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, attended Idaho’s retreat in 2010.

A mother of two, Dani has long been active in the community, working for the City of Ketchum and leading a local Girl Scout troop for years. While fishing on the Big Wood River with me on a crisp afternoon last October, Dani shared her CFR experience and described fly fishing as an “in-between.”

Before being diagnosed, Dani skied, mountain biked and did all of the things we love to do in the Wood River Valley, but cancer slowed her down. Fly fishing allows her to be active outside again.

Dani said that women from all over southern Idaho and all sorts of backgrounds attended the retreat, but they all had at least one thing in common, fishing. Besides the fishing instruction, the retreat provided an opportunity for the women to network, to share their stories and to ask questions. Since Idaho is a rural state, Dani said that many of the women had never shared their experiences with anyone. It’s no wonder why 100% of CFR retreat participants say they’d recommend it to others.

Dani obviously has fond memories from the retreat and has stayed in touch with many of her fellow participants. Some time after her retreat, Dani was hospitalized by her battle with cancer again. During her hospitalization, her fellow retreat participants created a huge and elaborate scrapbook of their retreat for her and several of the participants visited her. The scrapbook was overflowing with retreat memories—each participant created a few pages for her. Full of photos of smiling women in waders, hugging and holding fish, as well as words of encouragement, the scrapbook was moving and a symbol of their bond. Through cancer and fly fishing, they have created a new family.

While on the river last fall, Dani’s vest was decked out with memorabilia from her Casting for Recovery experience. An eye-catching pink and purple fly, CFR’s signature symbol, was prominently displayed on her vest. She was smiling on that day, with a twinkle in her eye. The moving water obviously provided a peaceful and private place to share and enjoy the river, the bugs, the great outdoors and the fish.

Dani’s story is moving and inspirational, and just one of thousands CFR has been part of. She describes herself as a very lucky person, “I just have cancer.” -Morgan R. Buckert



Kenny Connolly lands his first fish.Kenny Connolly knows a thing or two about winning battles.

When he was just 27, the Challis resident was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which is so exceptionally rare for someone his age that, statistically speaking, he had a better chance of getting hit by lightning.

“Once you hear the word cancer,” Kenny said, reflecting back to when he found out, “you don’t really hear anything else.”

But Kenny, like all cancer survivors, is a fighter. Instead of complaining about the struggles of surgery, chemotherapy and regular trips to an oncologist 140 miles away, he stubbornly held on to a positive attitude. He kept battling away.

“You can’t just give up. You can’t think like that,” he said.

“It’s a crazy situation, so you just make the best out of it,” said his wife, Jenny, who eloped with Kenny several months after he was diagnosed. “We weren’t going to let the cancer win.”

It was Jenny who actually saw the flier for Reel Recovery, a small non-profit organization akin to Casting for Recovery that takes men suffering from all forms of cancer on fly fishing retreats. Kenny, who grew up in North Carolina, had never been fly fishing before, but he applied for the program and was lucky enough to get accepted.

Kenny was the youngest of 15 participants at last summer’s Idaho retreat at the Wild Horse Creek Ranch in the Pioneer Mountains. And even though he didn’t land any fish that weekend, he reeled in something much more valuable.

“I absolutely had a ball. The scenery, everybody sharing their stories and struggles, the gut wrenching laughs—just men being men. You forget about that when you’re battling cancer,” Kenny said.

Last fall, Kenny and a handful of other Reel Recovery participants and volunteers reunited in Sun Valley. As long, autumnal afternoon shadows crept across the Big Wood River, the group began casting along the shores of Hulen Meadows.

Kenny was handed a fly rod and after a few casts he hooked a feisty rainbow. The battle was on … and you can guess who won that one, too.  -Mike McKenna


A Prescription for Fitness

Joel Zellers enjoys a therapeutic ride out Adams Gulch. Photo by Craig Wolfrom.Nine knee surgeries ago, Kim Mazik tore her meniscus on a high school basketball court. Orthopedically-speaking, she’s tough, a modern-day Joe Namath. “Any time my clients complain about pain, I tell them they don’t even know what pain is,” recounted Mazik, a physical therapist at Hailey Sport and Spine. But after her fourth or fifth surgery (two were to remove hardware) she started to center her rehab on cycling. “The bike made a night- and-day difference. Just the way my knee felt post-operatively was so much better. I didn’t lose as much strength and endurance. I credit cycling for helping me put off a complete knee replacement for so long. The more I cycle, the better I feel.”

And Mazik isn’t alone in her sentiments. “Cartilage doesn’t have a very good blood supply and it gets its nutrition from synovial fluid inside the knee. Moving the knee on a bike helps keep the joint lubed,” explained John Koth, owner of Koth Sports Physical Therapy in Ketchum. Knees feature prominently in Nordic and alpine skiing, so the bike acts as the perfect personal trainer for those who want to get in shape or repair injuries.

Skiing and biking are beautifully complementary. All of the major leg muscles are used when biking, with the quadriceps muscle group largely responsible for your power. They’re also the main source of strength when you’re on a pair of skis. Summer biking or indoor Spinning in the winter can really enhance strength and endurance—critical components of surviving ski season injury-free. Conversely, Nordic skiing can keep you fit for cycling. Greg LeMond (three-time Tour de France winner) skate skied to train during the winter months, as did cyclist Davis Phinney.

Greg Martin, Wood River Trails coordinator for Blaine County Recreation District, director of the Wood River Bicycle Coalition and a retired mountain bike racer, swears by his bike and appreciates its low-impact qualities. “I run a little bit to keep in shape. But I can ride a bike all day long and not feel it in my knees in the same way,” said Martin, who logs 20 to 30 hours a week training on a road bike because “it allows you to really dictate your ride in a way that’s hard to do on a mountain bike.” He uses Strava, a free app for smartphones, to track miles and provide a training log. A backcountry telemark and Nordic skier, Martin cycles because he loves it, but also because it keeps him fit for his winter pursuits.

Getting on the bike isn’t a bad way to see the sights, either. There are more than 1,000 miles of mountain biking trails and about 30 miles of bike path in the Valley. For those who cross-train, Blaine County Recreation District meticulously maintains the Harriman Trail and other ski trails that add up to 215 kilometers of pathways in paradise. Check for trail conditions and maps. -Jody Orr


Bicycling as a Form of Treatment

Outdoor Spin class at Zenergy. Photo courtesy Zenergy/Ben Kerns.If you’ve ever followed the Grateful Dead, you know that spinning is a euphoric act performed by tie-dye-clad, patchouli-oiled folks exalting in the moment. But if you prefer sweating to “tripping,” Spinning™ is an exercise that takes you great distances without ever leaving the room.

Lead by certified instructors, Spinning classes are held indoors on stationary bikes with weighted flywheels that simulate the feel of a real bicycle. Tension knobs give riders the power to decide how hard they will work, and pedals have toe clips enabling them to pull up with one foot while pushing down with the other.

Spinning gives athletes of all levels a terrific workout in about an hour. Those looking for a new fitness challenge won’t go away disappointed—on average, a 155-pound rider can burn anywhere from 400-700 calories per session.

Classes are taught throughout the Valley, including FitWorks at Blaine County Recreation District (BCRD) in Hailey. Cameron King is their fitness director and a former mountain bike racer who believes in the power of indoor cycling: “The beautiful thing about our classes is that they’re set up for all abilities. No one ever touches your resistance knob; you’re in full control of how hard you work,” she explained. Pace and difficulty constantly change so that the workout mimics a real ride. Music is matched to each leg to keep riders motivated through all phases of the ride.

The role of the instructor is technical and motivational. By helping riders achieve proper breathing and smooth pedal stroke (or cadence), they teach a safe technique that translates to the trails in the summertime. Encouraging them to ride at a level that’s comfortable, yet challenging, inspires results. “I’m not a drill master. I remind people to take stock of how they’re feeling and ride accordingly. Don’t compare yourself to the rider next to you; know why you’re here and what your goals are,” said King. 

Pioneered in 1987 by ultra-endurance cyclist and South African Jonathan “Johnny G” Goldberg, Spinning was born out of a prototype of a bike built in his kitchen. Meant to be a temporary training solution to leaving his pregnant wife for long stretches while preparing for the 3,000-mile Race Across America, the idea stuck. Five years later, Goldberg and partner John Baudhin formed Mad Dogg Athletics, trademarked Spinning and began educating instructors.

Zenergy holds 10 classes weekly with the option of using Suunto heart monitors—a lightweight strap attached to each rider’s chest. Maximum heart rate, weight and height are projected onto a TV screen. Students ride in color-coded training “zones” based upon percentages of maximum heart rate. An instructor and physical therapist, Erin Finnegan, says her goal is to help people see a difference in their fitness “through a progression of learning how to ride harder over time. Training your body to work at a certain effort level will equate to goals like weight loss or power on the road or on the dirt.”

Debbie Fox, a Big Wood Fitness instructor, sees Spinning as a recovery tool. “It’s a great cardio workout that’s low impact for people recovering from injury,” she said. On the first Saturday of every month, Fox teaches a 90-minute skills class. “I help riders identify which leg is stronger. We practice consistent breathing and cadence that helps them keep a steady pace. The more efficiently you pedal, the farther you can go,” said Fox. -Jody Orr


The Botanical Garden's Prayer Wheel

Sending prayers across the world at the blessing ceremony. Photo courtesy Sawtooth Botanical Garden/Michael Olenick.There are unlikely layers to the quietude of this Valley and it’s worth our time to make discoveries beyond the bustle. For instance, hidden just off Highway 75 is the tranquil Garden of Infinite Compassion at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden (SBG), where a massive four-hundred-pound prayer wheel rests. Sheltered in a gazebo, lined with prayer flags, the wheel is an ancient Tibetan tradition that Buddhists believe can be used to grant merit and dispense spiritual blessings.

Hand-crafted by Tibetan monks in Dharamsala, India, this extraordinary work of art (one of only two such wheels found in North America) was donated to SBG in 2005 to commemorate the Dalai Lama’s visit to Sun Valley. Although aesthetically marvelous, true enjoyment of the wheel must be accompanied by an understanding of its spiritual purpose.

According to the SBG’s executive director, Kathryn Goldman, “The idea is that there are mantras and prayers captured in the wheel and that when you turn it, you release the prayers contained inside.” In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, turning a prayer wheel has the same laudable effect as recitation. Given that Sun Valley’s wheel holds two million written mantras, every rotation results in the oral equivalent of a lifetime. “Since we’re at high altitude, having the wheel here is supposed to help send the prayers across the world,” Goldman explained.

Interestingly enough, the common mantra placed in Tibetan prayer wheels, “Om mane padme hum,” is used to invoke the attention of Avalokitesvara, the patron Bodhisattva of Tibet. Since most Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama to be the physical manifestation of Avalokitesvara, his blessing of SBG’s prayer wheel is truly captivating in its self-fulfilling nature.

So the next time you speed past the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, consider that which lies out of sight. Designed to be shared by people of all faiths, the prayer wheel sits in silent repose, waiting for us to sift through the layers of our lives, stop the noise and spin a prayer of compassion for this community and others. -Alec Barfield


New Programs at the Wellness Institute

The Wellness Institute “inspires positive change.”When it comes to finding one’s well-being, well, it’s pretty obvious that we must be doing something right around here. Sun Valley has been named one of the top wellness vacation spots in the world by Travel to Wellness magazine and the annual Sun Valley Wellness Festival, held each Memorial Day weekend, has become one of the most highly respected retreats in the country. Each year a veritable who’s who of the wellness world comes to speak, folks like Dr. Deepak Chopra, Debby Ford and Marianne Williamson.

Not content to simply rest on the region’s impressive laurels, the Sun Valley Wellness Institute (SVWI) has set a mission to “Inspire Positive Change.” To do this SVWI (, a non-profit which was founded in 2005 to take over the annual Wellness Festival from the then Sun Valley/Ketchum Visitor’s Bureau, has made it their goal to develop the institute into a “renowned center for health and well-being” by offering exceptional programs and events throughout the year—and not just for one long weekend each spring.

This summer’s highlights include:

The Kiai Golf Workshop in late June with “Golf Sensei” Jamie Zimron. The class will take place at the Bigwood Golf Course and promises to be “a golf course like no other!”

On June 30th SVWI will be offering a Numerology Workshop, which promises to help attendees create “the life you really want through the power of numerology.”

And on July 11th the institute will be putting on a “FUN-raising” event (it’s free to the public but donations will gladly be accepted) called “12 Hours of Om.” From 7 am to 7 pm at Ketchum Town Square, a variety of the Valley’s top teachers will help folks stretch their bodies, minds and spirits. -SVM Staff


This article appears in the Summer 2012 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.