True Heroes

By Bruce Callis

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The 7th Annual Reel American Heroes Foundation tournament was this past Saturday, July 15th, 2017, and it was an amazing day! This year’s event was dedicated to the honor of Mark McCowan of Team Special Ops who passed this year and one of the the Foundation’s biggest supporter. But none of this could have happened if it were not for the many generous sponsors, the many individual donators, the volunteers, and the many unpaid workers who helped put this event together each and every year. With the help of 78 amazing boaters, they were able to take 100 warriors out for a day of fishing therapy and fun.
In the darkness of the early morning, the headlights started coming down the hill to the entrance to the Hope Springs Marina. The boaters were to start arriving around 4:30 am, but many started to arrive just before 4 am, ready to launch and get started. The warriors started arriving, making the traffic thicken, but the wait wasn’t terrible, just a few minutes. You could feel the excitement in the air as both boaters and warriors mingled and checked in.
As darkness gave way to the morning dawn, and the passing trains rumbled across the bridge right beside the marina, you could hear the excitement in the voices of all involved. As the warriors checked in, they were given their shirts and boat assignments, and then directed over to the tackle table where they were given a new tackle box loaded with gear donated for them. They were also each given a brand new rod and reel donated by Lew’s . This gear was not a loaner, it was theirs to keep and take home to continue the fishing therapy well beyond this day.
This year, like last, was a difficult situation for the professional anglers who would normally come to take out a warrior. Last year, the river was off limits to the BASS Elite Pros due to the upcoming tournament on the river. This year, there was a double whammy, with ICast ending on the Friday before the tournament and then the Elites having a tournament on the St. Lawrence River with Monday being the first practice day. Shaw Grisby, one of the Pros, left ICast early just so he would be able to make the event. What a thrill it was for one lucky warrior to be able to get out with him for the day.

Opening ceremonies brought a heightened since of excitement to everyone. As the colors were presented, you could feel the pride of everyone swell and explode as the Star Spangled Banner was sung. After a few opening remarks, reminders of some rules, and a word of prayer, the announcement was given to start the tournament. Boaters and warriors made their was down to the boats, stored everything and then made their way from the piers to their first fishing stop. The mood was high and hopes of big fish still danced in everyone’s eyes. It was just 6 short hours until everyone had to be back for the 2 pm end of the tournament and weigh-in.
What most don’t see is what happens once the anglers leave. The behind the scenes activities that must happen to make the afternoon run smoothly. The morning set up for registration has to be changed for the trophy presentations. The prizes must be set up after they are brought out of their secure holding areas. Raffle items must be set up on their respective table and ticket holders placed with each item. Chairs must be taken down and moved. The seating area for lunch has to rearranged to accommodate the number of guest expected to eat. Picnic tables must be moved and additional tables set up. The weigh-in tent must be set up and scales brought over. The holding tank for the fish to be brought in must be set up and filled and the aeration system working. There is a lot of work that must be done by the volunteers so that everything runs smoothly.
As 2 pm neared, you could smell the sweet aroma of lunch filling the air. The first boats start to arrive back to the piers, and you could hear the excitement in the voices of the warriors. Laughter fills the air, lifting the souls of those on shore. And the scales begin to hum with excitement as the family and friends watch the warriors bring their catch up, proudly lifting them high for all to see. Just up the hill, the aroma of lunch entices the returning anglers to filter up for a delicious lunch provided by Bilkins Barbeque. The laughter and talk fills the covered eating area, as workers once again make the awards ceremony area come to life, placing much needed chairs in place.
Finally, the announcement is made for everyone to make the move over, and slowly the crowd shifts locations, but the talk of the day and the excitement never ceases. Some may say that it is a rowdy bunch, but to those who look closer, it is a pride and joy filled group of caring souls enjoying the peace that can only be shared among anglers.

The big moment has finally arrived, as the opening announcements are made. Shaw Grisby is called forward and given special thanks for being there, as he needs to get himself on the road to New York. Unknown to all the Heroes until that moment, each Hero’s name was placed on a raffle ticket, and Shaw made the announcement that one of them would be given the opportunity to experience a trip down to Florida in the beginning of the year, to fish with him and hopefully land one of those giant Florida bass. Excitement filled the air as they waited while Shaw dug through the bag, flipping tickets around and pulling out that special one. The name was read aloud, and the winner, the man that had fished with Shaw that day, had left before the awards. Since he had left, Shaw once again dug into the bag, swirling the tickets around until he pulled a new winner. As they read the name aloud, you could hear the joy and excitement of Raul Carbajal has he gave out a shout of joy. That excitement carried him all the way up to the front and the glow on his face just said it all, as he shook Shaw’s hand. But, Shaw wasn’t done. He announced that even though he could not be there, Paul Elias himself was giving away a trip to one Hero and a guest to the Paul Elias Fishing School, all expenses paid. And Shaw pulls out his phone at that moment and calls Paul so that he may be able to expand on the prize and hear the winner called. But, as we all know, cell phones are great, but getting reception can be a funny thing, as we lost Paul for a few. But Shaw never gives up, calling him back, twice. As Shaw dug through the bag again, the winner was pulled and Andrew Haines erupted in joy at the wonderful opportunity given to him. What a thrill to start the awards ceremony. And then it was onward to find out who had won.

This year, for the first time, the winning Hero had a rare opportunity to win a fully ready to fish Jon boat and trailer. It came with a 9.9 hp gas motor, custom anchor system, Garmin Fish Finder, and more. And then the winning combination was finally announced. With a 5 fish total weight of 14.63 pounds, the team of warrior Tony Solivais and boater Kevin Linza were announced. Applause filled the air as they made their way forward. Tony was told that he could claim the boat if he wished, and if he didn’t want it, the second place warrior would be happy to claim it, but that wasn’t to be on this day. Kevin claimed a 55” LED 4K Ultra HD TV for his prize. The trophies were handed out and pictures taken. The smiles on the faces said it all.
The second place winners with a 5 fish limit of 13.37 pounds were Hero Ira Benoit, who took home a trophy and selected his prize of an IPad, and boater Robert Fincham, who took home a trophy and as a prize selected a Yeti Tundra 65 cooler and Wiley X sunglasses. Third place, with a 5 fish limit of 12.78 pounds were Hero Jake Green who claimed a Yeti Tundra 65 cooler as his prize and boater Joe Holland who claimed a Garmin 73 fish finder, a custom rod and Wiley X sunglasses as his prize. The winner 4th place team with a 5 fish limit of 12.08 pounds was actually one of our Super Teams, 2 Heroes and a boater. The winning Heroes were Harrison Gordon who took home a 65” TV and Troy Biggham, who took home a kayak. And the winning boater was Tank Mosley, who took home a GoPro with accessories and Wiley X Sunglasses. And rounding out the top 5, the 5th place team had a 5 fish limit of 11.93 pounds, and consisted of Hero Ben Kieran, who claimed a prize of a GoPro with accessories and boater Michael Kruse, who claimed a prize pack of a Hydrowave unit, custom rod, and Wiley X sunglasses.
It was then on to the raffle prizes that had been donated to help raise money for the event. And what an awesome list of items they had. Custom made wooden US flags, custom handmade lures, television, and so much more. People were pulling out long strings of tickets in hopes of winning. It truly was exciting to watch the joy as the numbers were called on each item. And then the event closed, but the excitement didn’t as heroes, boaters, and friends & family made their way out into the parking area.
If you have never been to a Reel American Heroes Tournament, you are truly missing a special event. Volunteer to be part of it or just come to support the Heroes who gave so much for us. While this is just the annual event for the group, their mission is truly year round. Heroes are always being taken out, and it reaches to every part of this great country! It doesn’t matter if they are in California, Texas, Michigan, Maine or Florida, they find a way to help our TRUE HEROES!
Shaw Grisby, who made the effort to be there, had experienced problems with his truck as he went to trailer his boat, and the hopes were that he would be able to make it to New York without any problems. We now know that he only made it across the river into Maryland before having to be towed in to a dealer and finding out it would be at least Monday before they could fix it. He had to rent an enclosed truck to continue on his journey and arrived there safely. We truly thank you Shaw for everything you did,


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