Ken DaVault began fishing in 2010, at the suggestion of his VA recreational therapist. DaVault, a 55-year-old Naval veteran, was searching for normalcy in his life after sustaining a traumatic brain injury in a fall.
The fall left Ken with impaired vision in one eye and the inability to routinely read, write, or spell. He also lost much of his natural sense of balance and his ability to walk.
Like many disabled veterans, DaVault found himself becoming sedentary and lacking reason and desire to venture outside his home. He freely admits to finding being outdoors and near the water somewhat overwhelming and scary in the beginning.
But DaVault immediately liked fishing. “Fishing gave me purpose,” he said. “And, with each fishing trip outside, I became more and more confident and relaxed. I finally had something to look forward too again.”
Ken entered his first Paralyzed Veterans of America Bass Tour event in 2010 and won 1st place in the Bank Division. Ken was then Bank Angler of the Year in 2011 and 2012.
And, although he freely admits to loving competition and winning, Ken insists that fishing and the camaraderie mean more to him than winning. It's an experience he loves sharing and seeing others enjoy also.
Last year DaVault started a fishing club at the Washington, DC, VA hospital for veterans with traumatic brain injury as well as paralyzed veterans. He organizes monthly outings and teaches them basic techniques and skills to fish from the bank. He donates his time and equipment to make this happen.
His efforts were largely responsible for the turnout of 30 bank anglers at the 2012 tournament on the Potomac River, the largest number of bank participants to date at a Paralyzed Veterans fishing event.
Ken, now fully sponsored and outfitted with his fishing tackle needs, points out that not having gear is no excuse for anyone to stay away. Everyone who comes to a Bass Tour event will be provided with tackle—even if he has to give them his, he said.
“Ken is a perfect example of the power of the Paralyzed Veterans’ fishing program,” said Alan Earl, associate director for sports and recreation. “The therapeutic value of fishing and outdoor recreation is truly amazing and can be seen first-hand through Ken. He continues to inspire not only me but all the guys and gals on the tour. Seeing his love and passion for fishing is awesome and makes our tournaments much more than just fishing tournaments. Guys like Ken make these events more like family reunions each month.”
“I've never met one person who came to a tournament that didn't have fun,” Ken said. “And that's what it's really all about.”
Steve Saxton is a professional photographer and freelance writer living in Brandon, Mississippi.