A lot has changed since I wrote my first column for Bassmaster.com. I guess you could say that is an understatement. My world has done a complete 360 more than once! Despite all of the changes in the air, there is stillness and calm in the midst of it. I’ll do my best to explain that feeling here. Sometimes words just can’t capture the true feeling of an event but I am going to do my best.
As I mentioned in “How ‘Team Howell’ began,” Randy and I have been in the bass fishing business for 21 years. This past week, Randy fished his 12th Bassmaster Classic. He fished his first Classic in 1997 in Birmingham, Ala. That was the year before we actually moved to Alabama from North Carolina. I can remember then the excitement we both had. It was a turning point in his career when he qualified to fish the Classic that year. It gave both of us a sense of “we belong here” and we both knew that the career choice was right.
Passion for the sport of bass fishing is what drove him from the very beginning, and it still drives him today. As with any passion, the belief that you can do it has to be the one factor in the equation that keeps you going. I also believe that the people you surround yourself with have to have that same belief. If not, disbelief is detected easily and can affect a person mentally.
In 1997, Randy and I both believed that he could win a Classic, but I am not sure that we believed it would be that one. I can remember trying to talk ourselves into believing it, but truly inside we were more focused on doing everything right and consumed with the “Classic Hoopla” as it has been termed. Classic Hoopla is all of the stuff that is required of the anglers. At that time, it included the dinners, meetings, rules, rods and baits limitations, where to sit, where to seat family, how to dress, how to talk, early mornings, late nights, etc. The list could go on, but really you can label it as distractions that were necessary. I remember cheering for him each day; and to both of us, just being there felt like winning, or what we knew of winning.
Honestly, I do not remember where he finished in that first Classic, nor do I remember much about the next 10 Classics. What I do remember is that our belief that he could win grew with each year that he qualified for another one. The Hoopla was still very much a part of the next 11 Classics, but we grew in experience as far as what to expect each time. We became comfortable and familiar with the process. But, more importantly, since then, our faith in God has grown, and we have come to realize that He is in control. The only belief that we needed to have is that when His timing is perfect, winning would happen.
Fast forward to 2014. Randy qualified to fish his 12th Bassmaster Classic. As in years past, there is always an excitement and thankfulness we have for each qualification. However, this one felt different before it ever began. It was the same feeling we had at the 2013 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open he won last summer at the James River.
During the week of practice for that the Open, it was both of us had an overwhelming feeling of expectancy, confidence and faith knowing that God’s timing was perfect and it was going to work out. He won that event and not only did it build our confidence but our faith reached a new level that is hard to explain. If you had been a fly on the wall that week of the Northern Open, it would have been quite comical. There were so many distractions that took place that week that could have taken both of us out of the game if we had allowed it. But through years of experience and growing, each distraction was just another step to take, get through and keep our eye on the prize. Psalm 37:23 says that “the steps of a good man are ordered by God” and knowing this enables us to keep on keeping on through the distractions.
And then came the week of the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic. The three day practice began and it appeared to be a downward spiral. Randy got a sinus infection that required an antibiotic. Unfortunately, he had taken several rounds of antibiotics in the two months prior for walking pneumonia and the crud. Because of this, his stomach suffered and he began having excruciating pain. Practice was Feb. 14-16, and he was in complete misery the entire time. I was really getting a bit concerned because the last thing a Classic angler needs is sickness. Also, he usually tells me how his practice is going, and it was NOT going great. However, he knew warmer weather was coming and he knew that things were changing. I could tell the subpar practice was not affecting his belief that things were going to get better.