More than 100 disabled veterans and others gathered in early June 2013 on the Potomac River for the Capital Clash, the premier event of Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Bass Tour.
The event paired up veterans from local war transition units and hospitals like Walter Reed, Bethesda, Quantico and Ft. Belvoir with local bass fisherman who volunteer their boats and time to help mentor participants and teach them the ins and outs of fishing – from learning how to use a pole to picking the best bait.
“Getting these guys to come out of the hospital and out of the house and back into the outdoors is pretty amazing,” said Alan Earl, associate director of sports and recreation at Paralyzed Veterans of America. “It’s one of the best therapies out there, and it really changes a person.”
Disabled veterans participating in the event receive more than just lessons on fishing technique, however; they also receive several pieces of fishing gear, all free of charge thanks to donations made in part by two sponsors.
Bass Pro Shops, a longtime sponsor of PVA’s Bass Tour, donated $500 and offered a 25 percent discount on all items purchased for the tournament. Ardent, a reel company, offered a sizeable discount on 70 rod and reel combos, and Bass Pro Shops put the line on all of them for free. Students from Patrick Henry Elementary School in Arlington, Va., also raised money to help the tournament through their annual “Pennies for Soldiers” drive.
As a result of those donations and other donations and sponsors, Paralyzed Veterans and Maryland B.A.S.S. Nation were able to provide each participant with a rod and reel and a tackle box, Earl said.
The Capital Clash event marks the fifth stop on Paralyzed Veterans’ Bass Tour this fiscal year. Previous stops were in Garland, Texas, Kissimmee, Fla., Gilbertsville, Ky., and Mount Vernon, Ill. Two more tournaments will take place in September in Boston, Mass., and Eufala, Okla.
Caleb Brinson, a disabled veteran from Ft. Belvoir, won the individual event for his catch of five fish weighing a total of 13.91 pounds. Brinson received a $7,500 gift card to Bass Pro Shops and $1,000 cash.
Jose Santiago of Stafford, Va., received a $500 cash award in the individual bank competition for his catch weighing 9.95 pounds. Winners in the team categories also received cash prizes of up to $1,300, Earl said.
Still, it’s about more than the prize money, but really about showing our disabled veterans they can regain their independence and be active in sports, Earl says.
“We have what I call ‘veteran veterans,’ or those guys who’ve been on tour for a while, who take the newly injured guys under their wing to show them that there is life after a disability,” Earl says. “You can find your sport and find your niche. It may take a little extra work, and you may need some adaptive equipment, but if you want to do something, you can do it.”
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America's Adaptive Sports Programs
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.