"It's the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance."
—The Rose, Bette Midler
DECATUR, Ala. — Dreams are what the universe wants us to be.
Nightmares are when the universe shows us what we could become.
Dreams are ying, reality is yang.
If dreams were life, no one would sleep.
Dreams are conversations between us, and our inner self. Between me and him, and him is me.
In dreams we swing for the fences, in life we watch the game from the couch. In dreams we win, in life we never even play. In dreams we become President, in life we don't vote.
In dreams we are what we want to be while in life we are someone else.
I think we have two choices in life, we can follow our dreams, or we can follow dreamers, let others dream for you.
Or take the chance. Do your dream. And today I met someone doing just that, Jim Hardy of Coosa, Ala.
"I tell myself, One Day."
Jim is a pro angler fishing the Bassmaster Opens and other local tournament trails ... his dream, to be a Bassmaster Elite Pro.
"I say 'one day' it will be my turn. No matter what, no matter all the stuff I go through it's going to be my turn up there on the stage. That's my dream."
Dreamers rise above reality, chase things others won't. Dreamer's don't hear you tell them what they should or should not do, what they can and can not do.
The only voice dreamers hear, comes from inside. It's the only voice that matters.
And for Jim Hardy, 'one day' will come. For it to not is not an option.
One day, Jim will take to the stage as an Elite Pro.
One day Jim will hoist the tournament trophy.
And he will do so, from his wheelchair.
"I am NOT confined to a wheelchair"
Your outsides is not what you are.
We are hidden.
You can't see me by looking at me. To know me you must look within. As with Jim.
"I'm not a wheelchair, I'm not confined to a wheelchair, I'm not a spinal cord injury, I'm Jim and I use a wheelchair to get around. Period."
October 17, 2000 while climbing down from a tree stand something broke and Jim fell 20 feet to the Alabama soil. Jim laid there for about an hour or so until his buddy came and found him. For the next 18 days he was in critical care with a spinal cord injury, hip fractures, broken shoulder, blood in his lungs, "and a whole bunch of other problems."
This, he told me, after just spending the better part of three days out on Wheeler Lake in Decatur, Ala., practicing for the second stop of the Southern Open.
"I practice in rain, I practice in stifling heat, I even practice in ice, one time it was so cold and misty that my whole wheel chair was encased in ice, with ME IN IT."
And that's when I knew ... knew his secret ... and called him on it.
db: "Can't ... you been told that huh ... "
Jim only stared at me, his forearms flared, his face tight ...
"... I know you're stronger because of this ... you go through more stuff just to get out of bed than most people have to go through in a day. They have no idea of what they are up against because you are stronger and more focused than they will ever be because YOU HAVE TO BE."
Jim pushes his cap back, rolls forward, turns outside in, "They said I can't do this ... can't fish ... can't compete no more ... AND THEY ARE WRONG. How dare they say I can't do something. Saying I can't just fires me up."
At birth, my parents were told I would never walk.
I spent the first three years of my life in a body cast, from my armpits to the toes of both feet. Can't was a word spoken a lot in my house.
Every major success I've had in life, every major breakthrough I have ever had began with two words: "You can't."
Jim: "db, you know, if you tell me I can't do something you have just pretty much guaranteed my success in doing whatever it is you think I can't do."
"Chair or no Chair"
"No one will fish any harder, no one will be any stronger, no one burns more to catch fish than Jim," said Elite Bassmaster pro Mark Menendez, who has fished with Jim, fished against Jim, and who considers him a close friend.
"The investment this young man is making is nothing short of phenomenal. Trust me, he is a very talented angler, yet he is gracious at every turn and has an etiquette you just don't see anymore."
Mark is telling me this in the middle of registration for the Southern Open with hundreds of pro and co-anglers all milling around. I am NOT doing an interview with Mark, I never had the chance. Mark is on a mission to tell me about Jim. We talked for about 20 minutes. I never asked a question, I just listened.
"No is not in his vocabulary, there is no doubt he is an inspiration to me."
Mark talked of how Jim sends his children Christmas presents, how he came and sat with Mark while his wife Donna had surgery in Huntsville, Ala. It was a long talk with deep breathes and emotion.
"I went to see Jim one time and he was so proud of how his rehab was going that he showed me how he could now turn over in bed, and I almost cried, and then he scooted over to the side of the bed and showed me how he was beginning to be able to lift his legs by himself, one at a time, he got each leg to lift a little, and db I don't know if he knows it, but when I left his room I cried."
Mark, when I told Jim that story he had one back for you.
"When I heard that Mark had a chance to win the tournament over on Lake Dardanelle, I got in my car and was there for the last day of the event. I was sitting there when it was announced that he was the champion and when he stepped up on that block and held that trophy up over his head, I was crying like a baby for him."
Neither Jim nor Mark were together when they told me those stories, but both teared up just thinking back on them.
CAN'T keeps Jim on the water about 200 days a year fishing various opens, buddy trails and local events. CAN'T is the fuel for the fire:
"I study more, I focus more, I do everything more and I do it to level the playing field."
His knuckles are turning white gripping the arm of the wheelchair as he is talking.
"My ultimate goal ... " He takes a deep breath and is looking past me, over my right shoulder, past the registration crowd, past the Holiday Inn lobby, and onto a stage only he can see.
"... what fires me up is that I want to beat these guys and move on up and fish the Elites.."
And then his eyes drift back to me, straight into my eyes, he leans forward, I can smell his passion, feel the heat of competition wafting from him.
" ... and then db, chair or no chair, I want to beat the Elites."
Don Barone is a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. Other stories of his can be found on Amazon.com. For comments or story ideas, you can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com