Vinson boat giveaway to aid charity

Greg Vinson’s 2015 Phoenix 920XP is the bass boat he’s dreamed of running since he was a teenager.

With a 250 horsepower Mercury ProXS, twin Power Poles and two high-definition graphs that look like flat screen televisions, it may even be more than he dreamed of back then.

But on Dec. 5, the Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Wetumpka, Ala., will gladly hand the keys over to someone else.

A special giveaway involving Vinson’s boat will soon benefit Outdoor Friends Forever, an Alabama-based charity that provides cost-free fishing and hunting trips for children with disabilities. It’s an important charity to him not only because he believes strongly in the cause, but because its founder and operator, Jim Hardy, is a longtime friend.

“We played football together at Benjamin Russell High School (in Alabama),” said Vinson, who finished 16th in this year’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. “We were friends back then, but we really became a lot closer when he got hurt a few years after high school in a hunting accident.”

A life changed forever

Hardy still remembers that accident vividly. It was a tree stand fall that took place during a bow hunt on his family’s central Alabama property in 2001.

He remembers choosing not to use his safety harness as he began climbing down from the tree where he’d been hunting. He remembers the top half of his two-piece climbing stand coming loose from the tree. He remembers falling backwards and landing on the top half of the stand that had malfunctioned.

For a brief moment, Hardy said, he remembers still having feeling below his waist.

But then it was gone.

“I was able to use my arms to sit up, but I couldn’t stand because I couldn’t feel my legs,” Hardy said. “I remember thinking right then that life was going to be different.”

In that situation, “different” could have meant a lot of things. But after a series of surgeries and 60 days in intensive care, Hardy chose a path that allowed him to continue enjoying his outdoor pursuits without the use of his legs.

“I remember seeing him for the first time after he got out of the hospital,” Vinson said. “I remember him calling and telling me he was coming over, and I was nervous about seeing him in that chair. Looking back, I think he knew I needed to see that he was going to make it and that he was in good spirits. He wanted me to see that he was going to move on with his life.”

Hardy used that positivity to continue honing his hunting skills – and with Vinson’s help, he became a much more avid fisherman.

The two joined forces on the local team circuit, and Vinson’s first big victory in a team event came with Hardy during a Fishers of Men tournament on the Alabama River. Hardy also fished a dozen B.A.S.S. events from 2005-2010, placing in the Top 15 twice and earning three checks.

In 2010, Hardy founded Outdoor Friends Forever, and the organization has since provided outdoors opportunities for hundreds of children who otherwise may never have gotten to go.

Making a difference outdoors

The organization hosts multiple fishing- and hunting-related events each year with disabled children encouraged to attend and bring their families along. Hardy is currently overseeing the construction of an Outdoor Friends Forever lodge with a stocked pond nearby to make such outings easier.

The organization has always prided itself on providing experienced guides for the children who participate. Through the years, they’ve gotten help from at least nine Bassmaster Elite Series pros and hunters with decades of experience doing things the right way.

“The slogan or motto that we always like to use is ‘We pair people with special needs with people with special talents,’ and I think that’s exactly what we do,” said Hardy, who has also won multiple state championships as head football coach at Victory Baptist in Millbrook, Ala. “We want these kids to get as much as possible out of these trips, and you can’t do that unless you have people who really know how to teach them.”

Help a child, win a boat

The idea for a giveaway involving Vinson's boat came from back-and-forth discussions between Vinson and Hardy about ways to raise money for the organization.

Vinson knew the fundraiser would be popular because he’s parting ways with a fully-loaded boat that would likely sell for about $75,000 new. Plus, the boat was home base for one of Vinson’s best seasons as a pro.

After a tough 2014, the 38-year-old father of two had a season of redemption on this year’s Bassmaster Elite Series. He scored five Top 25 finishes, including an eighth-place showing at Lake Guntersville and a fifth-place finish at Lake St. Clair, and earned a berth into the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro for the fourth time.

Still, he thinks people should be most excited about the machine itself.

“It’s everything you could possibly want in a bass boat,” Vinson said. “Whoever wins it is going to be set.”

People can become eligible for the boat giveaway by making a $100 donation to Outdoor Friends Forever. Only the first 1,000 people to make the $100 donation will be eligible.

The chances will be available online until Dec. 4 or until the 1,000-mark is reached. The drawing will be held at an Outdoor Friends Forever event on Dec. 5, and entrants do not have to be present to win.

To get involved, visit outdoorfriendsforever.org.