When Darold Gleason crosses the weigh-in stage at the Academy Sports & Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by HUK, he’ll have a bunch of buddies back at Toledo Bend green with envy, but somewhere in the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex stands, one very special fan will be pink with pride.
That’s a reference to his wife Randi’s career as a pink Cadillac SUV-driving Senior Sales Director with Mary Kay. We’ll get to that in a moment, but for now, meet this amazing Classic couple.
Fifteen years after proposing to Randi on Cypress Bend Resort’s 17th hole, overlooking Toledo Bend, Darold punched his Classic ticket by winning the 2019 BassPro.com Central Open on that Sabine River reservoir. Doing so put the South Toledo Bend Guide Service owner on track to fulfilling a dream he’s been chasing across 13 years of tournament fishing.
“It felt like a culmination of all those years of struggling and grinding,” Darold said with a quaking voice. “To be able to have that moment with my wife was incredible — for both of us. She’s been a big part of this even when I wasn’t winning, so sharing a victory with her was pretty special.”
While that’s certainly a compelling story, glossing over the Gleasons’ thick-and-thin devotion to one another would be unforgivable.
If this sounds like just another sappy lead, buckle up. And if you’re the tissue type, now’s the time.
The story starts at Simpson High School in their Western Louisiana hometown. When Darold, a sophomore, looked across a Friday night dance floor and saw a feisty little redheaded 8th grader, he felt a flutter in his heart that would dramatically alter his life’s trajectory. A rare and wonderful alignment happened that night, and it wasn’t long into their dating that Darold knew he’d someday marry this girl.
He also knew Randi had Cystic Fibrosis, the nation’s leading fatal genetic disease, which affects the respiratory and digestive systems with abnormal mucus development. Darold understood the reality, but he knew how he felt.
This was the one.
But lasting love is predicated on truth and, for them, embracing the facts of Randi’s illness has cemented their relationship. It’s the kind of stuff that shows you what you’re made of and what really matters.
When Darold and Randi met, a CF patient’s life expectancy was mid-20s. Medical developments gradually increased that number to 41 and Randi reports that new medications are adding another decade.
Thankfully, the Gleason’s diligence and personal faith have kept Randi moving forward with a brilliant smile and boundless enthusiasm. But consider this: The day Darold said “forever,” this man knew his forever would almost certainly be much longer than that of the woman he loves.
“I’ve just been so blessed that he took that on,” Randi said. “It’s pretty special to know you’re loved enough that someone can take your baggage too.”
Walking the walk
CF has taken the Gleasons aboard an emotional roller coaster, with the joy of good checkups and tears over the tough ones. Hospitalization remains a looming possibility, and if you think losing a 7-pounder during the last day of a tournament hurts, try seeing the light of your life in one of those beds.
Randi stays on top of the medication and dietary requisites, while Darold has built a fortress of protection around his beloved, which includes nightly Chest Percussion Therapy. Essentially, Darold cups his hands and drums his wife’s upper torso to help her clear enough congestion so she can breathe while sleeping.
Darold does this every night — even the ones during his career’s most important event.
“Every time I do that it’s prolonging her life and making her healthy,” he said. “I feel like I have a very small hand in (her health) and her commitment to the regimen lets me know she loves me enough that she wants to hang around with me. That makes us feel incredibly close.”
Randi’s appreciation rings clear: “It feels like I’m not in it alone. It’s not just my battle, it’s our battle. On the hard days, I have someone who will be there every night with me.”
We could stop there and have a greater tale of true commitment than most will ever know. But there’s more worth telling.
Chasing dreams, together
Get to know the Gleasons and you’ll quickly notice something admirable — their balance. Neither one hogs the spotlight; neither one takes more than they give.
Randi worked part-time with Mary Kay during college and took a 9-5 after graduation. Concerned with the impacts on her health, Darold encouraged Randi to leave that grind and devote her efforts to developing the full-time business she now runs from their home on Toledo Bend’s southern shore.
“I didn’t care if she made a dollar, even though I knew she would, I just wanted a happy healthy wife,” he said.
Similarly, when Darold took a sabbatical from teaching at Leesville Jr. High School to pursue his Masters in Education, Randi saw the passion for his part-time guiding service. What began as a temporary cash-flow solution has blossomed into the successful business that helps perpetuate the tournament career that has led the Gleasons to Birmingham.
Darold calls it a two-way street. When he transitioned from teaching to fishing full-time, his wife’s don’t-look-back support fueled his commitment. Question marks were many — in business, as well as health — but facing each one together lightened the load.
“Even though it looks like we have totally different careers, I’ve learned so much from him by seeing his commitment, drive and sheer determination for his goals,” Randi said. “When you see the behind-the-scenes of getting up before dawn, going all day and coming in without eating all day long; he just makes me want to be my very best.”
Super fans, caregivers, encouragers, unconditional supporters — the Gleasons gladly play the leading role in one another’s lives.
“We’re dream chasers; we’re those people who are unapologetic for having passion and goals,” Randi said. “In a marriage, whether (your spouse) is a dream chaser or not, as long as that person can tell you how they feel and what they want, the greatest love is when you want something for each other more than you want it for yourself.
“My heart beats the most when he’s the happiest. I think that serving one another is an act of love. At the end of the day, whether you cross over the finish line or not, you know you have someone who loves you and will be there the next day to encourage you to do it again.”
Living the moments
How Darold Gleason fares in his Bassmaster Classic debut is up to him, but he’ll return every evening to the kind of sincere support system that’ll keep the fire lit.
Noting she’ll wear Mary Kay waterproof mascara to the weigh-in, Randi described her pre-Classic anticipation as pure joy — for her husband’s pure joy.
“It’s that feeling that someone’s dream is coming true and you got to see all the work; the struggles, the victories, the highs and the lows,” she said. “I can’t imagine a better feeling. I literally still feel like that Toledo Bend Open that he won was the best few days of my life. Being here this week is so incredible because it’s a dream come true for someone you love more than anyone in the world.”
That’s strong motivation for a man who’s all-in.
“I’m a fan of the sport too, so after sitting in the arena watching friends of mine weigh in or watching on TV and seeing people share those moments; to now put us in that moment, it’s incredibly exciting,” Darold said. “We’re honored to have this opportunity.
“Our plan is to soak it up and enjoy the week, but when they say ‘go’ on Friday, there’s a fishing tournament. I’m going to do everything I can to be competitive and do well. But at the same time, it’s very humbling to know that I’ll have so many people here to cheer us on. To share that with my wife is very special.”
So, every day Darold will take care of business on the water; and every night, he’ll patiently ensure that his wife is able to sleep — even if he can’t.
Burden? Do not use that word in front of Darold Gleason. Honor, privilege, purpose — those are better choices.
For, despite how long he’s dreamed of this week, no matter how magnificently a Classic win would impact his life, even Darold’s burning passion for competitive fishing pales in comparison to his love for a feisty redhead that simply is his world.
“I don’t care how many fish bite this week, or even the rest of my fishing career, having someone to share your life — however much time we get together — to me is the most special part,” Darold said. “The best thing that ever happened to me was meeting her at that gym that night and then, somehow, convincing her to be my girlfriend and then to marry me. That led my life on a path that I could never have imagined without her being a part of it.”