The Forks of Life

"Another turning point
A fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist
directs you where to go … "

Dateline:  Not There

It was a whisper in my ear.

He was going somewhere, I was going somewhere else.

He was going home to die.

I was going home to live.

His name was Kevin Oldham … and with Kevin, the young firefighter dying from cancer, with Kevin at the Bassmaster Classic we began this year, a new year, a beginning anew.

New B.A.S.S.

New attitude.

One of future.

One of hope.

The Elites, 2011.

And a whisper in my ear.

Delta gate … boarding call … one last hug.  I knew it would be the last time I ever saw Kevin.  Kevin knew it as well.

So what do you say to someone when you know goodbye, means, for real, goodbye.  Not Aloha, but just bye.  Gone.  For good.

I could say nothing, I could only hug, hug hard hoping I could suck all the positive energy out of all the travelers around me and channel it Kevin's way.

But I couldn't.

I knew it.

Kevin knew it.

And a whisper in my ear.

Soft, yet hoarse, soft, yet labored, soft, yet caring.

And the whisper carried this message, "Take care of yourself bro … "

And the last thing I ever told Kevin Oldham, was a flat out lie.

I said I would take care of myself.

Knowing, I wouldn't.

" … So take the photographs
and still frames in your mind.
Hang them on a shelf
In good health and good times … "

For the past three years I have been at every, EVERY Elite event.

Every Classic.

Every Tournament.

Every postseason.

The streak ends tomorrow when the Elite All-Stars hit the practice waters. 

I will not be there for any practice, nor will I be at the Ramada All-Star Semi-Final competition days on Saturday and Sunday.

I won't be there, because I am a stupid man.

A stupid man who looked in the mirror and saw Superman.

A stupid man who looked in the mirror and saw Invincibility.

A stupid man who never got regular checkups.

Like you.

Sometime around mid-season with the Elites, the universe sent me another wake-up call.  A wake-up call wrapped in a Kelly Jordon jersey.

The Toledo Bend event in Many, La. … I'm sitting off by myself backstage watching the guys bring their bags through the holding tubs, when a hand gently grasps my right shoulder.

When I look up, my good friend Kelly is standing there.

"db, I need to talk to you," or something like that he says.

"Sure," I'm thinking it's about fishing.  It wasn't.

"db, db …I have cancer … skin cancer."

For the second time this season, I became hollow inside.  Tried to man-up for my friend, but knew that within me, my soul had been wounded.

But I was still Superman.

In the stupid-man mirror.

When it came out about Kelly's condition, dozens of other Elite anglers got the wake up call, as did dozens of other anglers who emailed me about how Kelly's story, was their story … and they went in and got checked for skin cancer as well.

More than a few found something that had to be removed.

Kevin Oldham was a stand-up guy, who stood up and told people that if you don't feel right, get it checked out.

Kelly Jordon is a stand-up guy who stood up and made an example of himself while telling people if something doesn't look right, don't look the other way, have a doctor look at it.

Now it is my turn.

I am not Superman.

Neither are you.

Hiding from reality does not mean reality is going to be hiding from you.


High blood pressure can, and will kill you.

High blood pressure is the radiator within.  When it starts to bubble and boil, something is going on.  DO NOT IGNORE IT, because trust me, it is not ignoring you.

I thought I could just man through the symptoms, being you know, Superman.

Turns out, I was just Stupidman.

In a year or so I went from absolutely normal blood pressure, to now, 170 over 110.  Not a blow the top off my head level, but something regular checkups would have found long before yesterday.

Now I'm on a bunch of prescriptions.

Now I'm on a bunch of side effects as we try and mange the cornucopia of pills.

Now I'm benched, on the I.R. for the first time in my life.

Now, for the first time ever I have let the team down.

Team B.A.S.S.

Team Elites.

Team … Barone.

" … so make the best of this test
and don't ask why.
It's not a question
but a lesson learned in time … "

Nothing I'm facing compares even slightly to what Kevin Oldham, what Kelly Jordon faced.

But as the doctor yesterday was explaining to me the value of regular checkups, I was thinking about an interview I did with a doctor a longtime ago for a story I was working on back then.

That doctor told me, simply, "Dropping dead is the leading cause of death in America."

Between being upright, and hitting the floor, in that fraction of a second if you are thinking, "I should have seen a doc," it's too late my friend.

Tomorrow begins Toyota Trucks All-Star week.

A week that celebrates the best in the world doing what it is they do best.

Supermen in bass boats.

Mike Iaconelli, Steve Kennedy, Skeet Reese, KVD, Terry Scroggins, Aaron Martens, Jeff Kriet, Edwin Evers, Davy Hite, Ott DeFoe, Gerald Swindle and Casey Ashley.

Great anglers you are.

Invincible, you are not.

One out of every three adults in America has high blood pressure.  One out of three.  Most don't even know it … 12 guys divided by 3 equals … Regular Checkups Dudes.

On Thursday … July 28 … you guys will be making a trip to see the patients at the VA Hospital in Montgomery … be All-Stars on and off the water … take a minute or so while you are there, and have your blood pressure checked.

Do it for your family.

Do it for your fans, especially for those in the crowd who look in their mirror and see Superman.

As I did.

As a stupid man.

Who let the team down.

Who, if we can get the medicines to work right without the side effects, will be there with you on Thursday.

And who will help you strap on the blood pressure cuff.

Not as Superman.

But as a regular guy who will now get regular checkups.

For Team B.A.S.S.

For Team Elites.

For Team … Barone.

And for the young firefighter who whispered in my ear….

"It's something unpredictable
but in the end it's right.
I hope you had the time of your life."

Time Of Your Life

Green Day

-- db