As a young boy, my uncle used to take me bass and crappie fishing near Dandridge, Tennessee where I grew up. Like many kids I fished less as I grew older, entered high school and I became more involved in traditional sports like baseball, basketball and football. I even played a little tennis and discovered girls too. I was at that age where teenagers believe they are invincible.
All that changed in 1983 when I had a diving accident between my sophomore and junior year that left me paralyzed and without the use of my legs and hands. I crushed the disc between my 5th and 6th vertebrae and all the sports I enjoyed not to mention daily activities of living life were gone. It was the first time that I realized I needed God. Not just to forgive me of all the mistakes I had made or would do in the future but to be my strength in coping with my new disability.
Jesus became my Savior while I was in the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville, TN and my new found relationship with the Lord gave me so much joy it was hard for me to doubt or ask why. I just moved forward with the attitude of doing all I could to make the most of my life. Now that’s not to say that I did not struggle or have obstacles to overcome but through it all God was there every step of the way guiding, encouraging and strengthening me.
After spending 9 months in the hospital I was sent home and eventually went back to school. It was a very scary time for me wondering how I would be received but again God was gracious and surrounded me with great friends and caring faculty. Fellow students would help me go from class to class, share notes and even get my lunch tray. The school even gave me a PE credit for taking therapy on site and I was elected president of our student body my senior year.
I eventually graduated from high school and went on to graduate from college and law school. I met and married the most wonderful woman I know (and my best friend) in 1991 and later became VP of a company in Texas too.
Through out this time I still maintained a passion for sports and outdoor activities but never could really figure out how to successfully enjoy them like I did growing up. I played wheelchair tennis for a while using athletic tape to hold the racquet but knew I would never be able to play tennis like a paraplegic much less able bodied person. Fishing though had so many other variables like seasonal patterns, water clarity and temperature and of course the independent thinking of the fish. These are all great equalizers making fishing a more level playing field for everyone regardless of disability.
In 1998 my wife, Leanne and I move to the DFW Mid-cities for a job and yes, two blocks from our house was a nature center with nine stock tanks. Unfortunately, I was so busy with my new position that I rarely got to enjoy this blessing until several years later when I started my own consulting firm and began to work from home. Now I could squeeze in time virtually every day to go out and wet a line either early in the morning or late in the evening. Looking back I can definitely see God’s hand working as there was such little effort needed for me to go out and figure out through trial and error how to do what I knew in my head with my disabled body.
I started out with the basic push button reels and Leanne taping the rod to my hand but one bad cast and my lure, rod, reel and me would be hung up and unable to move. If I was able to break the line my lure would be gone and my day of fishing with it. Eventually, I figured out how to use a regular open face reel and with the help of an occupational therapist from our Sunday school class developed a wrist wrap that I could take on and off to switch rods.
I still was not tying my own lures on the line and a lost lure meant my time on the water was done. Then one Saturday I lost my lure early in the morning. Leanne was in Dallas at an event and I thought I can’t go back to the house now, I just got out here. So then and there I decided to take what I knew in my head and see if I could figure out how to tie my first cinch knot since becoming a quadriplegic. It really made me think, was not a very orthodox technique and took a while but after several trials and errors I did it. Leanne now says I tie the prettiest cinch knots around and it only takes me a minute or two at the most.
Since then I’ve learned how to do all my own tackle rigging and release fish back into the water on my own. I’ve fished against able bodied anglers in tournaments and even won some awards and money fishing but my biggest milestones have been the new things I learned how to do through trial and error that I never thought were possible. It makes me smile to think that with God all things are possible.