Fishin' in the desert

“You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won't back down…”

Dateline: B.A.S.S. Nation Championship

“Believe in yourself.”

Max Pieper,Namibia

“I’m a Christian, I’m an optimist, I always have great hope.”

Tim Johnston, Montana

“Mrs. Barone, to be honest, if I were you I wouldn’t have high expectations for him.  Don’t expect much from him.”

Assistant Principal, Kenmore West Senior High School

I was 16 years old when I became invisible.

It was 1968 when they began calling me, “Him.”

I was sitting outside of the Assistant Principal’s office listening to what he was telling my mother, telling her not to expect much from me, telling her not to get her hopes up.

“I know,” is what she said.

And then, my mother said this, “I don’t.”

It was the exact moment, when the world couldn’t see me anymore.

This story, is for all the invisible people out there.

This story is for all those who have been stripped of expectations.

For those who walk with their head down, for those who think “not me.” For those known mostly as “him,” mostly as, “her,” this is your story.

I know it hurts, I know you hurt as well, but let me tell you a secret, I never for a moment believed them, even while invisible.

This story is about all that’s possible, even when you are told, it ain’t so.

This story is about never letting anyone else define who you are because within us all, there is a soul, and within that soul there lies a miracle.

And that miracle is called, Optimism.

“As a Christian, db, I am an optimist, why not be an optimist, I believe in my soul that we are put here to be happy.”  Tim Johnston.

And Tim would know that, last year when this angler from Montana came to fish the Bassmaster Classic…he couldn’t even get in.

“…no I'll stand my ground…”

At the last Bassmaster Classic Tim was picked to come in last place, I wrote about it here.  He was basically told he had no chance, no expectation to do well.

And it was reinforced at the boat yard gate.

“I couldn’t get in, the people at the gate told me to back up and get out of here, they told me that the camera boats went somewhere else.”

Tim didn’t show up in a fancy wrapped Bass boat, it wasn’t new, wasn’t shiny,  “They thought I was a camera boat driver but I told them I was here to fish the Classic, they didn’t seem to believe me though.”

In a sport of highly visible contenders, Tim was invisible, “I finally told them to find a program or something that listed the competitors, when they found one they came up to me with it, I showed them my Driver’s License then…”

Then, a moment in life, to always be remembered.

“…when they saw that I was indeed listed and was really competing in the Classic they apologized and then one of them said to me, ‘Yes sir, you do belong in here, you do belong.”

Tim:  “I will never forget that, sure I won the right to be here, knew for months I was going to fish the Bassmaster Classic, knew I belonged, but when that man in that yard looked at me and said, yes, I belonged here…”

And Tim takes a breath, looks for a minute at the sun setting on the Ouachita River behind me, I say nothing, I give the man his time to once again go from invisible, to visible….. “…when that stranger told me I belonged, that was a very special moment, it sounds funny, but it was then that I knew, I did belong.”

Then, “db, you have to have great hope, you have to believe that God believes in you even if no one else does.  When I was in the water that first morning, I took some time and looked around, saw KVD, saw Ike, saw all the great around me, I knew in my heart that I wasn’t the best out there…”

But within the soul of the invisible ones, within there comes optimism, “…sure I wasn’t the best out there, BUT I WAS THERE, and if you are there, you have a chance, you have a chance.”

And for the record, Tim Johnston of Montana, picked to have no chance, picked to be barely let in, picked to be last, the one Bassmaster Classic angler with the least expectations…came in 46 place.

46th place…10 places above last place.

And finished better than 8 Elite anglers.

“…won't be turned around and I'll keep this world…”

He comes, from one of the least populated countries on the planet.

He comes from the area that is the cradle of mankind.

He comes from a country that is, “mostly desert with two of the largest, oldest deserts on the planet, the Namib & Kalahari Deserts.”

He is an angler surrounded by deserts.

“We have for bass fishing two lakes and a small pond,” Max Pieper, Windhoek, Namibia.

Look no further for proof of the soul, no further that optimism may in fact be a miracle within the soul of human beings when a child who grows up amidst the oldest desert on the planet…longs to be an angler.

Dreams of fishing the Bassmaster Classic, “it took five years of hard work for us to become a B.A.S.S. Nation in Namibia,” and then he says something that to me is extraordinary, “we have about 40 recognized sports in Namibia and Bass Fishing is one of them.”

Bass fishing recognized in a country with the least rainfall in Sub-Saharan Africa, Bass fishing recognized as a sport in a country the size of France and Spain COMBINED but with only about 2 million people within it’s borders.

“Me being here didn’t happen overnight, and to be honest, I still don’t believe it.”

“…from draggin' me down…”

Pause the story here for a minute.

I want to give you an inside glimpse to what happened to me while I was putting this story together.  The more you know about how these stories go together, the more you will know WHY they go together.

I’m standing with Max a few moments after he weighed in on the Bassmaster stage, we are standing leaning on my rental car, I’m using the trunk as a desk writing stuff down in my notebook.

Earlier in the day I had on Facebook sort of promoted this upcoming story, and while I don’t normally do this, I pulled out my smartphone, pulled up Facebook and read to Max what I wrote about the upcoming story that he would be in, here’s exactly what I wrote on Facebook:

Working on a story today and tomorrow here at the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship about the extraordinary power of Optimism.

It will be my last story from the event, will go up late Friday, if everything works out, but for me, it may be the story that hits the closest to home for this entire year, if not all my time at Bassmaster.

If you have ever been told you can't do something…this story is for you.

If you have ever been counted out…this story is for you.

If you have ever been told you are stupid, inferior, can't make it, don't have what it takes…this story is for you.

This story makes me cry, and smile at the same time.

If you are a sanctimonious SOB, this story will eviscerate your ass.

It is the story of two anglers here, who are here and fishing against all odds, against all naysayers, against the almost impossible.

These two anglers epitomize all of us, who knew we were better, than most thought.

And the story is called…

…."Fishin' in the Desert."

And as I finish reading this from my smartphone I look up at Max…and he is crying.

His eyes are red, tears on his cheek.

I suddenly realized that I had just read something that struck this angler, this married Lighting Wholesaler from Namibia, that struck him in his soul.

And behind my Vicious sunglasses, a pool of water formed.

I knew, somewhere, somehow, Max had once been invisible, may have once been without expectations.

Only those not thought to amount to much, would cry at what I wrote on Facebook.

Only those, with a bruised soul.

“…gonna stand my ground…”

Max:  “Never accept that you are to small, or have some physical liability, or are not smart enough, never ever accept “no” as an answer if you want to accomplish something.”

Suddenly, as Max wiped his eyes, suddenly Max was writing my story.

“If you really want to do something and you are willing to work hard, you can do it.”

And Max has done it, on a trip to Mozambique, “I landed, caught a 14 pound 2 ounce Bass.”

“There is a point db where you stop, you have to stop listening to others and just listen to the voice inside you, just listen to yourself.”

Then, suddenly Max looked up from the ground, looked me in the eyes and contradicted himself, “You know db, to be honest, I did listen to one person, and as far as it comes to fishing, what that person told me, changed my life, changed it, and for that I will be forever grateful to Paul Smit.”

 I could have just walked away at this point and still wrote what I knew Max was about to tell me, I didn’t have to stand there and listen because…

“Paul Smit was in my boat and one day after we fished together he looked at me and told me that I was good enough to become a champion doing this, that I was a good angler and he helped me narrow my direction and that changed my life as a fisherman.  I just walked across that Bassmaster stage in no small part to the encouragement I got from Paul Smit.”

…because in my life, there to, was a Paul Smit figure.

Peggy Henderson.

“…and I won't back down…”

As an invisible child in High School, one with no expectations, I found myself in basically, the dummy class.

It wasn’t a curriculum for going to college.

It was a curriculum for minimum wage.

Most of the credits I earned in high school came from a boss filling out my time slip and mailing it in to the school.  Only one core course, English, most courses were shop, gym, study hall, and then I left at 11:10am every school day to go to my job.

Several years ago when I went to my High School reunion most of the people there had no idea who I was.

I was the invisible classmate.

Ten years after I graduated in the bottom 1% of my high school class, I managed to get into college through the back door of Night School.

My first college class was English 101.  Back in High School I failed English 10, English 11, English 12…had to take all of them in summer school to graduate.

English 101, first course, I thought I was screwed.

It was taught by a woman younger than I was, a Graduate Assistant, named Peggy Henderson.  On the first night of class she gave an assignment to write a short story about our lives.

I wrote it as I have always written stories, wrote it in the style that had always landed me in summer school.

The paper came back with a hand written note at the top that said, “Your grammar/spelling sucks, but I love the style and the story.”

And below that written in red pen was simply, this:  “A”

It was the first “A” I had ever got in my life.

That was my Paul Smit, moment.  “db, dreams do come true, I never thought this possible but I always knew, deep down there somewhere inside of me, knew that I could do it, that one bit of encouragement, at that one time on my boat, changed my life, that’s all it took.”

And then as Max and I stood there, in a moment I will remember forever, we both said, almost at the exact same time, we both said and agreed that, “we need to go back and get the others out, help the invisible, give encouragement to the no expectation labeled ones.”

If you have ever been told you can't do something…this story was for you.

If you have ever been counted out…this story was for you.

If you have ever been told you are stupid, inferior, can't make it, don't have what it takes…this story was for you.

Tim Johnston is proof.

Max Peiper is proof.

I’m proof.

Those people telling you that, are wrong.

Tim Johnston against all odds has crossed the Bassmaster Classic stage.

Max Peiper, an angler living in a desert country, could follow Tim across that same stage.

Listen to your soul.

Trust us, the naysayers, are wrong.

Because we know from experience that if you follow your heart,

you can be successful at what you do,

you can catch fish,

in whatever desert you face.

“God, is an optimist, that’s why he put us here.”

Tim Johnston

“…well I know what's right, I got just one life.”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers