“We play hurt sometimes…”
Dateline: Bass Pro Shops Southern Open, Lake Logan Martin
I’m going to warn you, you need to buckle up for this one.
It is about family.
It is about fishin’.
It is about faith.
Mainly faith, and my lack of it.
Until I was given the seemingly inexplicable assignment of covering fishing tournaments…me a dude who doesn’t fish, doesn’t like boats much, and one pretty much allergic to the outside.
I’m all about family.
Not much about fishin’.
About faith, none.
But then I got sent to travel the country covering the Elite anglers and all sorts of B.A.S.S. fishing events, and from the get-go, strange things began to happen, and I found myself traveling on,
the road to redemption,
whether I liked it or not.
I came to this business of chasing fish lake to lake pretty much dead from the eyebrows up.
It is hard to have faith in one another, or even a God, when in one year you cover 186 dead bodies, when you cover child molesters, when you cover cold blooded soulless human beings, and especially when, under deadline you have to write countless sentences that begin with,
…the dead infant…
…the child was found bound gaged and…
…all three children were killed by…
Family, becomes your bedrock, faith, not so much.
Now you may think you have the answer, may have been something a preacher told you, a verse read, a prayer said, but until you spend 30 years doing what I have done,
until your body count reaches mine,
I’m not listening.
Sorry, but it is the truth.
So basically, B.A.S.S. is sent a shell of a human being, a shell that didn’t much care about what it was doing, sent to an organization that pretty much didn’t care to have the shell here.
Pretty much the exact definition of Epic Fail.
No one knew back then, especially me, that when I left my driveway, took Route 6 to I-84 South, who knew, that I just turned on to the,
road to redemption.
“…dust ourselves off and get back your life…”
The question I ask myself over and over, especially during the long hours that I am alone and driving from one event to another, is this: “Why.”
What could possibly be the reason a non-fishing, non-outdoor guy was sent to do what it is I do now. It can’t be so that I would start fishing, because that hasn’t worked.
I’m finally though beginning to understand, I was done with faith when I had to brush the dust of 9/11 off my shoes, I was in fact, done with YOU.
Lost complete faith, knew, in my heart, the kind had left man.
And just at my lowest point, here I am, in a world I never knew existed, and in an instant I went from covering, meanness, to kindness,
and in my heart I now believe this,
faith wanted to show me that most of the time,
it gets it right.
And it was going to take me for a ride,
the road to redemption.
And believe it or not, here, at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open #3 on Lake Logan Martin,
the road to redemption,
took a turn into a parking lot,
where waiting for me in a new Toyota Sienna Minivan was,
Lee McClendon, Jr,
sitting with a smile,
paralyzed in his motorized wheel chair.
:…fall down sometimes…”
Lee, back in 1997 was one of the most feared linebackers in Alabama High School football. “I was in the top 10 recruited players in the state,” he told me as we sat in his specially handicapped equipped minivan.
Registration was about an hour away and Lee was already in the parking lot waiting to sign up to be a non-boater in the event. But first, he told me his story.
“I had just won a fishing tournament on Lake Logan Martin and I was driving to pick up my friend, he’s now the Mayor of Moody, Alabama, I was picking him up back then to take him to show him where I caught the fish, when, the accident happened.”
June 4th, 1998, I-20…”an 18wheeler clipped my front bumper, spun me into the ravine between the north and south highways, the truck flipped over and shot me out the top of it, I landed about 20 feet away from it.”
The 18wheeler that knocked him off the road, never stopped, another 18wheeler coming the other way saw the accident, slammed on the brakes and came to help the badly injured, Lee.
“I had two collapsed lungs, a broken arm, and was paralyzed from the waist down. They flew me to the hospital and when the doctors got done with me they came out and told my parents ‘we have good news and bad news, the good news is he is alive, the bad news is he will never walk again.’”
I just listen, don’t even take notes.
“The accident happened one exit before I was going to get off the highway.”
Lee, never stepped foot on a football field again, “It was my dream, my life, never happened.”
And then he says, “But you know what, CAN’T shouldn’t be in no man’s vocabulary.”
Lee is now 32, works in the Leeds, Alabama, Bass Pro Shop in the fishing department, “the window in the department, it look right down on the exact spot where I had my accident.”
I don’t write it down, no need, not a quote likely to be forgotten.
Lee, fishes as many tournaments as he can, spends off days on the water, “those bass out there, they don’t know or care if I’m paralyzed or not.”
He goes on, “I enjoy life, don’t look at me all crippled up, trust me, I enjoy life.”
And then he says something to me that flat out knocks me back into the bench seat, “St. Peter, I take faith in St. Peter,” and then he pulls out his iPhone and says, “it’s all here in Acts 3…when Peter heals a lame beggar.”
I’m sitting stunned…
Then he reads this to me, Peter “…taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” Then Lee, looks at me and says, “I take comfort that Peter will come heal me.”
And I have to wipe my eyes.
Because, in a story I may never tell, in a story Lee has no idea about, Peter, has suddenly become someone I’m trying to learn much more about.
And as I’m trying digest this LATEST reference to Peter in my life, Lee looks at me and says, “and now to think I’m sitting here with db, dude you are a very spiritual guy whether you admit it or not, I want to know what is going on in your head right now, I WANT YOU TO TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK.”
So I put down the pen.
“…can’t make no excuses, Its up to me this time…”
And this, is what I tell Lee:
“Dude, I think, starting to believe, that we have all bought a ticket on a ride, I think, we are supposed to just hang on and watch where the ride goes, that maybe the dude running the ride knows best, and that when the ride stops, and we get off, that, that is where we are meant to be.”
Maybe, all the chaos in life, happens when we fight the ride.
“What if, the ride knew that in your heart you could become an inspiration to others…”
“…db…man…I know that true…the accident it took my legs, but it didn’t take my heart…”
“…and you know what my friend…it didn’t take away your competitive heart or sports…you still play, you still compete, with fishing, you still play man, you just don’t do it standing up.”
And Lee smiles.
As I get up to leave the minivan, I reach over and pat Lee on one of his paralyzed legs and say to him, “…you know dude, I hope Peter comes for you, I’m pretty sure that Peter believes as much in you, as you believe in him. Enjoy the fact, the ride has delivered you, to exactly where you are meant to be. Do good, and Love Wins, is the name of the ride.”
Lee told me he was, happy, he was, in love, he was, helping others.
And that’s, the ride.
Fight it, going to be a bumpy ride.
Embrace it, and goodness happens.
I shook Lee’s hand, wished him luck in the tournament, and not to worry, enjoy the ride waiting for you.
Walked over to my 4Runner, climbed inside, drove down the driveway of the parking lot, turned my left blinker turn signal on, drove out north, once again on,
and the many stops,
it has left to show me,
as it takes me,
on the road,
“…we all play hurt sometime.”
See you down the road at the Elite event in La Crosse, Wisconsin