DECATUR, Ill. — Six of the world’s top bass anglers will join six of America’s heroes as fishing partners in the Hope For The Warriors tournament, which will be held in conjunction with Toyota Trucks Bassmaster All-Star Week, Sept. 20-23.
The All-Stars are the Top 8 anglers in Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year points, as well as four fan favorites voted in online at Bassmaster.com. On Saturday, Sept. 22, six of those anglers will have the privilege of tournament fishing with service members and veterans from the organization, Hope For The Warriors. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for post-9/11 service members, their families and the families of the fallen who have sustained physical and psychological wounds in the line of duty.
One of the veterans, Chief Warrant Officer John Lightsey of Fort Rucker, Ga., grew up bass fishing in the South and has been hooked on the sport since childhood. A self-described “Type A” personality, he’s driven by a competitive spirit that makes him a strong rival in any sport, from a “Ping-Pong smack down” to fishing with the pros.
“This event reignites a spark for our confidence and passion for this sport that sometimes inadvertently goes off course in the daily grind of a wounded warrior’s life,” said Lightsey. “No one can express enough gratitude to all of the organizations involved in bringing me and others to this event.”
Lightsey deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 as a Blackhawk pilot and was the air mission commander on a flight when the crew was forced to make a hard landing. The incident resulted in extreme back pain and mobility problems. Prior to the accident, Lightsey planned to pursue a career as a professional bass angler. When he retires from the Army, he still intends to fish competitively, despite chronic pain.
“For me personally, I have fished more than 37 years of my life. I love bass fishing, and I am able to enjoy it at so many levels — individually, at local tournaments or at a national event such as Bassmaster. I love the excitement, camaraderie and the expectations that go along with a bass tournament.”
Lightsey is inspired by his heroes in the sport, such as Kevin VanDam, and said, “I am a KVD wannabe. He has an awesome skill set physically and mentally. Having the confidence he has is definitely a perspective that I try to apply to everything. I want to be that same kind of strong character model.”
After retiring this year, Lightsey would like to fish competitively, but he isn’t sure he’ll be able to withstand the pain. He’ll certainly spend time fishing with his son. “Every time you go out on the water, you learn a little more of the jigsaw puzzle of life,” he said.
Also fishing in the tournament is Sgt. 1st Class Gary Everett of Dayton, Ohio. Everett is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. After 9/11, he deployed to Afghanistan, then in 2003 he went to Iraq, where he survived an explosion that left him with ongoing nerve damage. Despite his injuries, he continued to serve and even redeployed to Pakistan in 2004.
“Hope For The Warriors is a great organization that doesn't hold millions of dollars in the bank at the end of each year. They simply take care of wounded warriors completely, at every moment possible with every dollar they can afford,” said Everett.
Warriors joining Everett and Lightsey in competition are: Sgt. Andrew Appelberg of Florida; Staff Sgt. Mark Daniel Brasel of Toledo, Wash.; Lance Cpl. Christopher McNair of Stafford, Va.; and former Army Specialist James Nelson of Indiana.
All-Stars participating in the Illinois competition are: Brent Chapman, Lake Quivira, Kan.; Ott DeFoe, Knoxville, Tenn.; Terry Scroggins, San Mateo, Fla.; Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas; Randy Howell, Springville, Ala.; Matt Herren, Trussville, Ala.; Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich.; Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla..; Michael Iaconelli, Pittsgrove, N.J.; Aaron Martens, Leeds, Ala.; Skeet Reese, Auburn, Calif.; and Gerald Swindle, Warrior, Ala.
After two days of pro angler competition on Lake Shelbyville, the field of Bassmaster Elite Series pros will be cut to the four with the most weight, who will compete on Lake Decatur in the Evan Williams Bourbon All-Star Championship on Lake Decatur.
The Hope For The Warriors competition will be held Saturday on Clinton Lake. On Sunday, the final two All-Star anglers battle it out during the final tournament day on Lake Decatur. The total purse for the All-Star tournament is $100,000.