Gleasons catch a pre-Classic miracle

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Alan McGuckin

Two years ago, Toyota Bonus Bucks member Darold Gleason was a successful full-time fishing guide on Toledo Bend. He was competing in Bassmaster Opens events, chasing dreams of a pro career, and more than anything, refusing to accept the claims of medical experts, who said the love of his life might not live past her early 40s.

The often-comical Gleason — who refers to big bass as “ocean ponies” — wasn’t being naïve or living in a dream world — he’s just never been willing to accept what the textbooks had to say. He refused to ever adopt a mindset that Cystic Fibrosis — the most common fatal genetic disease in the United States — would steal his and Randi’s dreams, by stepping on her lung function.

Instead, he and Randi have chosen to achieve every goal they’ve shared since high school with a tenacious firepower that would make the spark plugs in his 250 horsepower Yamaha proud. 

So just prior to the 2018 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell, when the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation asked Randi to be a spokesperson for their “Until It’s Done” campaign, Darold reached out to his fishing friends to help raise money and awareness by selling gray bracelets. 

His closest friend, Caleb Sumrall, spearheaded the effort. Others like Brandon Palaniuk and Casey Ashley joined in, and even eventual Classic champ Jordan Lee wore one while hoisting the trophy. Sponsors, fishing guide clients and many other generous souls also bought and wore the bracelets to raise money for research in Randi’s honor, which eventually totaled more than $10,000.

Still, after the admirable 2018 research fundraiser, just like so many annual fundraisers each year before, Randi then age 34, still had no promise of life much past 40. 

“My mom has been doing CF fundraisers every year of my life, and my greatest fear was that all the people who gave their hard-earned money might never get to see it make a true difference,” says Randi, a highly successful Mary Kay cosmetics senior sales director, with six hard earned pink Cadillacs to her credit, despite a lifetime of daily breathing treatments, and more than 25 hospital stays.

Then came 2019, and honestly, there are no adequate words to describe the manner in which miracles both big and small began to take place in Team Gleason’s universe. 

In February, Darold won a weather-challenged Bassmaster Central Open on Toledo Bend and punched a ticket to this week’s Bassmaster Classic — a dream so many can relate to — and one he had carried in his heart since roaming the court as a meekly paid junior high school basketball coach and teacher. 

Then, in the months that followed his dream-come-true win, came whispers of a possible life changing "miracle drug" for Cystic Fibrosis patients. Finally on Oct. 21, 2019, those whispers turned into joyous shouts of reality when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Trikafta — the first triple combination pharmaceutical to treat lifetime patients like Randi.

“Six days after I started taking Trikafta, I slept through the night without coughing and didn’t wake up desperate for a breathing treatment for the first time in my entire life,” says Randi.

Still, twice daily are the chest physical therapy treatments in which Darold takes his hands best known for cranking up “ocean ponies” — to instead pound on Randi’s upper torso in an effort to dislodge the mucus attempting to drown her lungs.

The same medical community that once doubted CF patients could make it to age 45 is now warning folks like Randi to thicken their retirement funds as Trikafta promises in miraculous fashion to extend their lives for decades.

“Sharing the miracle of Trikafta with so many people, including those in the fishing community, who gave their money in hopes of making a difference, is my biggest joy,” says a deeply grateful Randi. “And I’ll also tell you, I take those two pills each morning, and one each night, in honor of all those that had CF, but never lived long enough to know the miracle of this drug,” she adds.

Hours before he makes his first cast at the Classic’s $300,000 first place prize, Darold clearly has life in perfect perspective. “This is the biggest tournament in bass fishing, and performing great this week would be a powerful career changer,” he says. “But nothing that happens this week, or in any fishing tournament for that matter, will ever be greater than the value of simply having Randi with me.”