Meet All-Star Chris Zaldain

Dateline:  Muskegon, Michigan

This, is my 4th, 2nd chance.

B.A.S.S., being, the, THIS.

I have been classically trained in Journalism, I have been experiencely trained in Journalism, I have been writing so long that the first story I ever wrote was in crayon, but going into this 4th, 2nd chance I told myself, this would be my last chance, and I was going to disregard everything I had learned in the past and I was going to do it my way, this.

I know some of you may love it, some may hate it, I understand both, but in this 4th, 2nd chance I was going to do it not how my learned brain told me, but how my emotional heart whispered, was the way.

And my heart told me to only follow four rules:

·      Tell the human story because that story shows we are all more alike than we are different.

·      Focus on goodness.

·      Write backwards, I always write the end of the story first.

·      Virgin ears.  The less I prepare ahead of time, the more I learn while doing the story.

Every story I do will have those four elements in it, and because of that, the interview I did with Chris Zaldain turned out to be one of the best interviews I’ve had this year…and I will tell you the God’s honest truth as to how the interview began…you can ask Chris this if you don’t believe me but this is exactly how I began it:

“So, how do you spell your name.”

“…who, who, who…”

“Z…A…L…D…A…I…N.  It’s Basque, my ancestors are French and Spanish.”

“Where you from.”

“San Jose, California.”

“Mom, Dad, they still alive.”

“Yes, my Dad, Bob, is a Vietnam Vet who now works as an Operations Manager at a Semiconductor company, my mom, my mom Rose, she is a breast cancer survivor, things were going well, now, now turns out she has Ovarian Cancer, but you know what db, she is handling it well, never been happier.”

Chris is in his 2nd year competing at the Elite level, he is 29 now, but at the age of 18 “I won the Western Open, won a brand new bass boat at age 18, and I was hooked.”

In his first year on the tour, last year, he finished in 69th place, missed the Bassmaster Classic, “…but this year I finished 8th, can’t wait to be in the Classic on Guntersville.”

“Dude, how did you get here in the first place.”

“You know, it was the getting here where I learned I could, and should be here.  I finished in 1st place overall in the Central Opens, but you know db, I drove 3,000 miles round trip to fish the three Central Open Tournaments, when I won it was very emotional, I called home to my parents, my friends, but it was on that long last drive home that it dawned on me that I surprised myself with the power of will…I so, so, so wanted to get to the Elites…and you know…I did.”

During the past two years I was cordial to Chris, said “Hi,” once or twice, knew that he roomed with Brandon Palaniuk and Kevin LeDoux but pretty much avoided him, as I do all rookies, I figure they have enough to worry about the last thing they need to be doing is dealing with me.

So I’m hearing things about Chris pretty much at the same time you are.  I have done absolutely no prep so I ask this, “Dude, other than bass fishing, what’s your favorite sport.”

And his answer was a game changer.

And through his other favorite sport, I really got to know Chris.

“Hockey db, I played a lot of hockey.”

“…oh tell me, who are you…”

“Really.”

“Yeah I played hockey for 12 years, I was the Center/Right Wing, you know I was always the quick little fast guy.”

Seems Chris was part of the NHL San Jose Sharks junior team, played all over Canada and the northern United States, “Owen Nolan, the Captain of the Sharks, was my hero, I wore his number, wore my jersey just like he did, cool thing, turns out Owen is a big outdoors guy and I ended up taking him bass fishing, how cool was that.”

I covered the NHL some at ESPN, grew up watching hockey in Buffalo, NY…mainly the Montreal Canadians in b/w as the Toronto, Canada TV station’s signal would cross the border and onto our American TV’s some 90 miles south of the city.

“I bet playing hockey helps you fish.”

“db that is so true, I’m telling you just from the stamina point alone, hockey is a very physical sport and so is tournament fishing…for 6 hours during the tournament day I’m always on the front deck of the boat casting, moving, you never stop there are no time outs, no commercial breaks, and the fast pace of hockey prepared me for that.”

And with pride Chris went on to say, “I was always the fastest guy on the ice, my goal was ALWAYS beat the other guy to the puck.  Always.”

Now my guess is that many of you may not be hockey fans, may not care either way about hockey, and I understand that, but I think it is mainly to do with trying to watch the game on TV.

Dudes I know the game and I can still never find the puck when I watch it on TV, and all that the FOX Network did when they colorized the puck, all that did was make me sea sick watching this tail thing snake around the ice.

But to appreciate the game, go see it in person. 

The speed of the game is incredible, the talent level of the athletes playing at the speed they do, to me is one of the most amazing skills sets I have ever watched in any game.

And it made Chris Zaldain, a better angler.

“…who…”

“Stick handling in hockey saved me out here.”

It’s times like this when saying nothing is the best question.

“My greatest strength is my eye/hand coordination that I developed playing hockey.  I believe you should always have the hockey stick in your power arm and I think, know, that’s true in fishing as well.  I always hold my fishing rod in my stick hand, use the muscle memory of that arm to my advantage.”

I’m just listening…and writing.

“db, trust me when I say when I skip the bait under trees or docks, the motion I use, is a wrist shot.  In fact my friends laugh at me because when I skip the bait under there I still lift my left leg when I cast it just as I did when I was taking a wrist shot on goal.”

“Chris, do you miss not having a coach…this is the only sport I know of that doesn’t have a coach…”

“Man yes, I miss looking to the bench for advice, miss not having a third party tell me what I’m doing right, what I’m doing wrong.  You can only do so much trying to coach yourself, or get advice from other competitors, here though it is pretty much up to you to motivate yourself to dig down deep.”

“…are…”

“Can you pass me the salad dressing.”

“Yeah, here.”

“You want some db.”

I just looked at him.

“Oh okay db, yeah…”

I had already had a salad this week.  I told Chris the interview was over, that we were just having dinner together, but that I might write down what he says anyway.

Chris just smiled.

“So dude, you made the Classic.”

“Yeah how neat is that.”

“Yeah, you know, its okay.”

Chris puts down the cucumber with ranch dressing dripping off it, and just looks at me.

“Can I tell you something dude.”

“Yeah db.”

“Don’t get all caught up in making the Classic, that’s nice but just nice.”

Chris puts down his fork.

“If you just focus on making the Classic, making the Classic is all you will ever do.”

“And that’s bad.”

“No, that’s, you know, nice.”

Chris picks up a linen napkin, wipes his mouth, and then turns to look at me, I’ve pretty much just said, making the Bassmaster Classic, ho-hum.

“Chris, you see that pen I used to write down your quotes for this story.   Could have used a cheap Bic pen I stole from the hotel, but dude that’s a $25-dollar Cross pen.  I use it for two reasons, one I want to use the best to show respect to you, and to the art form of writing, respect, but almost more importantly I use it because I believe, at least I tell myself, that if you begin, BEGIN with excellence you have a much better shot at ending with excellence.”

“I get that db, I get that.”

“Chris, begin with excellence, as you have done this year, end with excellence, don’t just make the Classic, win the darn thing.  The goal is not to just get there, the goal is to win it.  When you look up to the flags in the rafters the flags don’t have the names of those who made the Classic stitched on them…only the name of the winner hangs above.”

At that point someone came over to Chris and told him the TV people were waiting for him so they could take his photo, so as Chris got up to leave, he stood up, put his hand on my shoulder and leaned down to my ear level and simply said,

“Thanks Coach.”

And then he left.

I smiled,

sat there looking at the salad,

but left,

with a slice of cheesecake,

to go.

“…you.”

Who Are You

The Who

db

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