Unless you've been camped out in an ice fishing shanty for the entire month of January, by now you've heard about Lance Armstrong. It's shocking to think that winning is so important to people that they completely forget about what is right. Don't get me wrong, I want to win as much as any athlete in any sport, but I want to do it ethically, morally and legally. I think just about every Elite Series competitor feels the same as I do, and it shows over and over again all season, even if it never sees the websites, magazines and TV shows. I'll get back to this in a minute.
I was reminded of an incident that took place in early December at a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. In the race, Nigerian runner Abel Mutai had a sizable lead over Spanish runner Ivan Fernandez Anaya when reports are he pulled up 10 meters short of the finish line. Instead of running right past Mutai and win the event, Anaya slowed behind Mutai and showed him the actual finish line. This doesn't get as much publicity as Lance Armstrong breaking as many rules as possible to win seven Tour de France races, but I think it should. It is much harder to do the right thing and take second than it is to do the wrong thing and win. I don't want to get into the politics of cycling, but I will say just because the others are doing it, it doesn't mean you should.
This got me to thinking — would Armstrong have stopped? That's the great thing about our sport. I think all of our anglers would stop for a competitor in this type of situation. In fact, in Green Bay this year I struck a rockpile and was not going to make it back to the launch ramp in time. Before I could even think about looking for help, Timmy Horton pulled over and took me in. Not only did he help me make it in, he did so costing himself at least 30 minutes of fishing time. Here's a guy fishing to make the Bassmaster Classic and instead of worrying about himself, he helped me make it in. By stopping he helped me win the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award. I owe huge thanks to Tim Horton, and although I hope Tim never needs my help, I'll be glad to repay the favor anytime.
This wasn't an exception; it is the norm for the Elite Series. If Timmy hadn't I am sure the next angler in the event that passed would have stopped for me. In fact, I am sure no Elite Series angler would ever hesitate to bring another guy in, even if it meant getting beat by that angler in the tournament. I would never want to win any tournament — not even the Bassmaster Classic — due to the fact the guy who caught the most weight broke down a quarter mile from the launch ramp. That's not the way I would want to win an event, and I don't think any of the Elite Series anglers would want to win it that way either.
I'd like to address another thing here, and it's not so much about sportsmanship as it is about camaraderie amongst anglers. We travel all around the country from New York to Florida, Detroit down to south Texas and sometimes all the way out to California. It seems like everywhere we go there are great people. I am still amazed how people show incredible kindness and support to us. They invite us into their homes, offer us a place to stay when we are in town pre-practicing, lend us boats on occasion, feed us, some even make us breakfasts before launch and pack us a lunch for on the water.
That's a nice thing about being a pro angler. I get to share good times and swap fishing stories with other anglers from all around the country.