" Hear this voice from deep inside
" ... it's the call of your heart ... "
Dateline: Oklahoma Greyhawkin'
I don't know why I'm here.
Could be my greatest career performance ever.
Could be my greatest career mistake ever.
They say, we chase fish.
They say, it's all about the fish.
They say, it won't work.
Because what makes this sport great, is not what's in the water, it's what's, within.
I don't know why I'm here.
I met a man covered in scars. Yesterday. We sat at a round table, straight back chairs. Inside his Class-A bus, his home with a motor. His wife curled up on the couch, squeezed into the corner to be as close to him as possible.
Bo, the tiny Yorkie/Maltese pup ran from window to window watching the children playing outside.
And the man covered in scars, kept reaching for the box of Kleenex.
Scars on the outside.
Scars on the inside.
And I just wrote down what he said. And didn't look at him. Didn't make eye-contact. With the man with the scars.
Because I was ashamed.
And that within. Me.
Where the crybaby lives. Where the complainer lives. Where CAN'T lives. Where WON'T lives. Whiny me. The woe, that is me.
And when I woke this morning the pillow was damp from the lessons of the night.
Lessons learned at a small round table.
On straight back chairs.
In a house with a motor and a tiny dog. Taught by a man with scars and a box of Kleenex.
I know why I'm here. Sent here.
Because for 15 or so years, I looked to the field, listened to the game, and thought I knew what "sport" was all about.
The man with scars taught me that.
Sport takes place within. The playing field is us.
Without that, it's just a ball.
Without that, it's just a glove.
Without that, it's just plastic in the water.
Today, I know why I'm here.
Was to learn about, them.
Learn about you.
Learn about me.
Because the man with the scars, Randy Howell, taught me this.
We're here because of what's within.
The voices of our heart.
" ... close your eyes and you will find
the passage out of the dark ... "
Some of what was in Randy though, had to come out.
His colon, has been removed. Diseased. Was about to kill him.
"I had been having trouble with bouts of ulcerative colitis. But I took the medicine and thought that would take care of it."
No such luck. Because with miracle of medicine, comes the mystery as well.
"I was 18 years old, married about 6 months, fishing a tournament in LaGrange, Ga., and I started bleeding out of both ends, throwing up blood on the boat during the tournament."
It was Day Two of the event, and Randy was in 10th place.
"But I had to leave, had to get home to my wife and the doctors ... but it was 8 hours away."
When Randy left the tournament, he didn't know it at the time, but his colon was perforated ... had three holes in it and was leaking into his body.
"When I got to the hospital they took X-rays, and then rushed me straight into emergency surgery and I remember thinking ... "
I watched him live it all over again. I didn't say anything. I didn't want to go down this path, bring these memories back, cause him pain once again, watch him reach for the tissue box and be physically unable to talk for a minute or so.
But it wasn't Randy talking.
I knew it.
He knew it.
It was the voices of his heart.
" ... I remember laying on a stretcher and them shoving a tube down my throat (another long pause) and I wasn't knocked out yet and all I could think was that they were killing me."
I couldn't look at his face.
I couldn't look at his wife Robin's face.
I was thankful there was a dog to watch in the room.
"I woke up two days later in ICU, and I remember, I remember (long pause) this nurse came in and she lifted up my hospital smock and did something, and I, I, I could just move my eyes down, and, and when I did I saw this bag thing attached to me with my insides in it ... "
I'm just hoping he doesn't see my hand shaking as I'm trying to write this.
" ... and all I could think db, all I could think was ... I'm 18 ... just got married and I was ... I was ... was, you know ... DONE."
DONE ... was the word that kept me awake all night.
Can you imagine this ... being strapped in ... you're inside out, got the ICU all over you ... you are a CHILD ... married or not ... you haven't even really started yet ... and all you can think of is that it's over. Turn out the lights, Randy is ...
Robin is watching the dog, Bo.
Randy is watching his children run around outside.
I'm watching my notes.
"By the time I got home from the hospital I weighed 102 pounds — lost 40 pounds in about 2 weeks. Had to wear a colostomy bag for 3 ½ months. I knew, just knew my fishing career was over. Done."
His doctor though, didn't agree, didn't think Randy was done at all.
"Duke University Hospital, a Doctor Randall Bollinger ... I told him what I did, how it was a dream of mine to fish competitively ... and you know what db ... he got it ... got it ... scheduled two surgeries, one in November of 1992, the other one, the big surgery in January of 1993 and told me he would get me back out there chasing my dream as soon as he could ... promised."
" ... find the door to the promised land ... "
just believe in yourself ... "
And he kept that promise.
"One month after the last surgery I fished a tournament on Smith Mountain Lake (long pause, Robin puts her hand on his shoulder) and I, I, I won it db ... won the tournament."
He stood on the stage, all 5 foot, 11 inches and barely weighed 117 pounds.
"I took it to be a sign that I could still do this, that I wasn't done, that I had never won anything while I was healthy, but now, somehow I had won this."
Randy has been fishing tournaments ever since. "In fact, db, I have never missed a day tournament fishing."
In surgery, that last big one, the doctor took Randy's intestine and made what Randy calls, "a holding tank inside me." But without all the parts of the digestive system being there, Randy has to go to the bathroom "10 to 13 times in a 24-hour period."
Tournament or not.
Two to three times a night. Two to three times before launch. Two to three times while on the boat competing.
Now understand how he has to live.
"I have to eat foods that digest slowly to make it more manageable to fish ... baked chicken ... mashed potatoes ... steak. I eat just enough to get by, I don't want to make my Marshal on the boat uncomfortable."
Not make Randy uncomfortable ... but the other person on the boat.
"But the biggest problem is dehydration ... the colon helps absorb water, and I don't have one, so I have to drink a lot ... probably six 32-ounce bottles of Gatorade a day."
Some tournaments he loses over 8 pounds of body weight while competing. On two occasions after weigh-in he has been carted off to the hospital in an ambulance to get fluids pumped into him.
And folks, for the most part, we fish in the South ... in summer ... hot and HUMID ... so humid that at times it seems you could fish the air.
"It gets so bad out there that sometimes I'm so dehydrated I can't swallow."
I CAN'T swallow when he tells me that.
"You know though db ... this has built determination into me ... built perseverance ... I have to tell you, I never grew up with this kind of backbone."
And then came a boy.
A boy of vanilla hair.
An 8-year-old with a crawfish in a red bucket.
A knock on the door early this morning, and when I opened it there stood a child ... and the mudbug thing. "Mr. db ... see what I caught in the grass ... he's the biggest crawfish I ever saw ... got a lot of meat on him."
"Mr. db, you might not want to walk around out here in bare feet."
Looking at the bug thing I pretty much thought I wouldn't be walking around out there ... period.
Last night though, Laker and I took a walk.
And talked of dad.
The man with the scars that Laker sees.
"I think about my dad almost all day during the tournament, I worry about him a lot when it's hot out. That's what I think about when I'm outside playing and I get hot ... how's my dad doing in this weather."
I'm not taking notes, you just let the child speak, and with a child like Laker, trust me, you will remember what he says.
"It's pretty amazing what my dad does. He's a fun dad you know. I'm very, very proud of him."
As am I Laker, as am I.
Because your dad, showed me, why I should be here.
And why, we should all listen, to what the voices of the heart tell us ...
" ... just believe in yourself."
Send Me An Angel
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.