Co-angler finds therapy in competing

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Roxanne Przelski usually wears a bass fishing inspired logo shirt when competing as a co-angler at Bassmaster Eastern Opens. This week is different. Przelski is wearing her true feelings in this inspirational message written across the front: 

“Grateful. Life Is Good.” 

Indeed, it is for the 45-year-old teacher that fishes the Opens whenever Oneida Lake comes up on the schedule near her home. Przelski, from the village of Poland, N.Y., has fished in five Oneida Lake Opens dating back to 2011, including a Championship Saturday in 2015.

Last year, Przelski, who teaches sixth-grade health and seventh-grade social studies, signed up for this Open. Then came an unfortunate life event that made it unclear if she would be able to be here at all.

On March 7, 2019, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Przelski describes herself as “liking to compete at anything,” as she has since childhood. Until the news, her competitive spirit was channeled through athletics and later, fishing. Now, it would be competing against a more formidable competitor.

Przelski underwent chemotherapy treatments, and then surgery on July 31. She has been out of work since March and still is now, with the school season underway in her hometown nestled in a picturesque valley between Syracuse and Albany. 

“Along the way I’ve gotten good news, and now I just have to figure out my next step of treatment,” she said. “I’m in a good place.”

That last comment has a double meaning. Przelski has made a lot of friends through the Opens. Her outgoing personality and competitive spirit are embraced by other anglers. She loves bass fishing and loves to compete. She is greeted by old friends and she makes new ones at every event.

On Thursday, she was humbled by a comment expressed by her boater partner, Russ Nixon, who weighed his catch as she awaited her turn at the scales.

“It was one of the most inspiring days that I have ever spent on the water,” said Nixon, of Rustburg, Va.

“I didn’t know he was going to say all those nice things, and I just met him today,” added Przelski. “It really caught me off guard.”

Not really. The unexpected moment was not an isolated coincidence. Behind the stage, at the weigh-in tanks and back to the boats docked on the beach at Oneida Shores Park, Przelski was embraced by the anglers she calls friends. Out front, she was greeted with applause by everyone gathered to see the weigh-in. Needless to say, all experienced more than just a fishing event.

If Przelski ever needed a lift from what she describes as her fishing family, it came in spades.

“It’s another reason why I like tournament fishing,” she said. “It’s more than just competing. When I come here, it’s like being famous for a short time.”

She continued, “You get to form relationships with the people, everybody is so kind, and it’s nice and heartwarming.”

And it’s therapeutic. 

“It’s definitely therapeutic and being here is very rewarding, because it’s been a very long few months for me,” she added. “It’s enabled me to go out there, have fun and let go of the stress.”

Przelski has played competitive sports since childhood. Now, she enjoys playing fast pitch softball. And fishing.

“I’ve always had a competitive side, and I like to do anything that I can compete in,” she said.

Przelski has competed as a co-angler for about nine years. Her key strategy from the back of the boat is finding unfished water, and only glancing at the front deck, to make sure her lure is different.

“I think it’s easier to find open water by focusing on my own fishing, not being distracted by what the boater is using, or doing,” she said. 

She brings her own game plan to the back of the boat, choosing to be deliberate about tackle choices, while setting a good tone early on with her partner. Offering to help launch and load the boat, keeping her tackle organized, and offering positive support are all part of her game plan.

Przelski likens the thrill of winning the game to the exhilaration that comes with catching big fish.

“I love setting the hook, the adrenaline that pumps through your body when you are catching a fish,” she said. “It’s the rush you feel, that’s what I love the most.”

Przelski has also set the hook, and hard, on an unwelcomed catch that she intends to fight until she wins.

Grateful. Life is good.

Go Roxanne. You just made a lot more friends who are with you all the way.

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