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Card overcomes health issues for miracle finish

If you did not already consider Brandon Card one of the most positive and resilient anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series, his Top 10 finish at the the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee speaks volumes of this man’s resolve.

Okay, I get it; every Elite event has a Top 10 field, and every one of those finalists — particularly the winners — merit the accolades accompanying their accomplishment. This one’s unique, and it’s a tale worth telling.

In fairness, Card dealt with the same weather and water as the entire 104-angler field. No one had it easy, but he did so with the added burden of a medical condition affecting his vision and stamina.

Card’s condition was well reported in January, but to summarize, a bout with viral meningitis in December led to Bell’s palsy —  a neurological disorder that causes paralysis or weakness on one side of the face. With sagging in his right cheek and the right side of his mouth, Card’s speech is only slightly impeded, but he’s has had to make adjustments just to remain functional.

“I’ve had to wear a patch over my right eye because my right eyelid won’t close,” Card said. “When I sleep, I have to tape my eyelid shut.”

These precautions are helping — especially, in the bright Florida sunshine, but the 2012 Rookie of the Year from Salisbury, N.C., started his 12th Elite season with some pretty big question marks.

A four-day Elite level event is an exhausting experience for anglers in ideal health. And with the next Elite event on Lake Seminole starting four days after collecting his seventh-place check, Card knew he’d need to carefully ration his energy and stamina.

To help with the recovery between back-to-back events, Card will ride from Okeechobee to Seminole with B.A.S.S. Manager of Angler Relations Steve Bowman. Prior to this, Card knew he’d have to formulate an Okeechobee strategy that blended competitive potential with realistic sustainability.

“I didn’t want to make a long run,” Card said. “I did practice down south one day, but after I was down there, I was like, ‘I’m not (fishing) down here.’

“I did not practice daylight to dark, like I normally do. I started practice about 9:30 most days and fished ’til about 6. I hadn’t exercised for six weeks, and I lost 15 pounds, so I was still weak.”

How he caught ‘em

It seems kinda cheesy to reduce this situation to a lemons-to-lemonade allusion. However, looking at how Card caught his fish through the week, he literally excelled through a necessary physical adjustment.

While many of his competitors fared well with reaction baits — frogs, bladed jigs, swim jigs, etc. — Card caught his fish by methodically pitching a wacky-rigged watermelon red 5-inch Yamamoto Senko into shallow vegetation.

“It probably did help just taking it easy and fishing slow, which I like doing,” Card said. “It suited my style.”

Demonstrating his commitment to the technique, Card told me after Day 3 the he went through two bags of Senkos.

Faith and fishing

Even before his recent medical storyline, Card has been outspoken about his personal faith and how he believes divine direction has put him on a course that allows him to share his beliefs. Drawing upon that strength and encouragement has helped him weather the current storm, he’s motivated to use his experience to inspire others.

“It’s very humbling the support I’ve had and still have,” Card said. “I have thousands of fishing fans praying for me. What’s cool about the fishing world is that we’re a close knit group of people.

“With that many people praying for me, I know it’s helped, and it’s going to keep helping.”

Throughout his ordeal, Card has drawn strength and encouragement from a particular Bible verse that speaks of Heavenly comfort and protection.

“The verse 1 Peter 5:7 says: Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you,” Card said. “My hospital stay was really rough, but I just kept quoting that verse over and over.

“Leaning on God during the (difficult) times is huge. It’s having faith in Him that He has a plan that’s bigger than what we can see.”