Healing Heroes: Slaunch and a haircut

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Whipkey holds the hair that formally was attached to his scalp, but said at least he still had the beard.

RICHMOND, Va. — There was a lot on the line for the latest edition of the Optima Batteries Healing Heroes In Action Tour presented by General Tire.

A lot of hair.

“Jake (Whipkey) and I are pretty competitive,” said Nathan Allen. “Every time we get together we make bad decisions that escalate.”

A shaved head bet was their latest bad decision. Whipkey, Allen and Jeremy Smith, all U.S. Army Purple Heart veterans who served in the 101st Airborne Division, were the participants Monday in the fourth and final 2016 version of this fun/fund-raising activity for the Wounded Warriors In Action Foundation. Bassmaster Elite Series angler Edwin Evers organized these fishing tournaments two years ago.

Allen and Whipkey settled on a competition within the competition: Whoever caught the most weight between those two got to shave the other’s head. The result was considerable trash-talking and, yes, a shaved head.

“Nate’s afraid his wife won’t love him anymore without his hair,” said Whipkey, shortly after the 6:30 a.m. takeoff at Shirley Millpond, a private lake surrounded by three centuries of U.S. History. Whipkey was paired with Evers.

You get an idea of how competitive the reigning Bassmaster Classic champion is when you see him jogging, not walking, through a convenience store parking lot during a brief stop en route to Shirley Millpond.

After the first half-hour on the water, Evers said to Whipkey, “We need to change. Everybody’s throwing topwater, and nobody’s catching anything.”

With that as an example, the Army might want to consider recruiting bass tournament anglers as scouts: Evers always knows where everybody is and what they’re doing.

Allen had announced the day before that Davy Hite would be his pro angler partner.

“I did some Google-stalking and found out Davy was a veteran,” said Allen, so he “claimed” Hite.

Almost every veteran who has earned a Purple Heart and survived has a story that ends with, “It was like it was meant to be.”

Whipkey has one. On Nov. 18, 2007, he was leading a “knock and greet” operation in an Afghanistan city ­– going door-to-door in gathering intelligence from residents – when he walked out of a house and took two PK machine gun rounds in his right arm and five in the chest. His body armor chest plate took the five otherwise fatal rounds, and only because it had swung into an atypical position. That was because Whipkey hadn’t repaired two broken snaps that held the plate in place the previous day.

“It was like it was meant to be,” said Whipkey.