It was not too many years ago that I was a completely different person. I was just getting used to being home from the battlefield. I was home, but I was not home. I was afraid just to leave the house most of the time. I hated being around crowds, and even just meeting new people bothered me. Every loud noise sounded like a gunshot or explosion. I thought being home would be all I needed, but being home, away from my brothers, I felt more vulnerable than ever. I had been shot at so many times overseas, but being home, feeling alone even around my family, was more than I could bare. I was so scared all the time and I was ready to end it.
Around this same time, a friend that was overseas with me and that I had been fishing with since coming home asked me to go to a Wounded Veteran Fishing Tournament with him. I was not physically wounded, but the Tournament’s Director invited me anyways. Even the night before leaving for the tournament I was second guessing it. I didn’t feel like I belonged there or deserved to go. I was even scared of who I would be fishing with. Would he be a jerk? Would he annoy the shit out of me? My wife packed my Ipod and headphones, and said “Just fish and have fun”. So I went.
This was the first tournament I had ever done and had no idea what to expect. The morning of the veteran tournament I was still terrified. It seemed like everyone knew each other and I was just a stranger that didn’t belong. I met the boater that would be taking me fishing and he seemed nice, but I double checked my pocket to make sure I didn’t forget my headphones.
I never needed the headphones. I caught a few fish that day, one of which was the biggest bass I had ever caught at that time. That catch alone actually deserves its own story. I was relaxed, and enjoying life. I made new lifelong friends and I had an amazing time. How did it save my life?
From that day on, I was no longer just thinking about suicide all day long. I was thinking about bass tournaments. The competition and comradery gave me something to put my mind to. All I wanted to do was fish more tournaments, and I did. Each year I fish more and more. I like to challenge myself on new waters to figure out how to catch them. My life has forever changed because of this day, this first bass tournament.
So I have to say thank you to Dan C. for inviting me along with you to this event and always being there as a friend. Thank you Eric K. for letting me fish your tournament multiple times. You probably have no idea the impact you have on these veterans when they need it the most. Thank you Jeff S., you made it easy for me to just fish and have fun that day. You have become an awesome friend that still gives me advice when I’m having a hard time catching. Without you guys, I would not be here today.