I was diagnosed with severe hemophilia A when I was very young (I’m 39 now). A bruise on my forehead kept getting larger, and when the doctor tried to drain it, it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Several members of my family have hemophilia, so nobody was that surprised.
Two events in my early life were the embers that sparked what I would do much later. The first was when I was about 3 years old and my grandmother’s friend took me fishing. I knew nothing about fishing, but this complete stranger put a pole in my hand and told me what to do. The next thing I knew, I was reeling in a fish. I wasn’t allowed to do traditional sports because it was just too dangerous. But fishing was a sport I could thrive with.
After that, every Sunday I’d sit on the couch, eat my cereal and watch fishing shows. The hosts of those shows, guys like Roland Martin, Bill Dance and Hank Parker, were my LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. I saw that catching fish and winning tournaments could become a career. So becoming a bass angler was a childhood dream.
The second ember was spending a summer at a hemophilia camp when I was around 7 or 8. It was my first time being around kids who knew exactly what I was dealing with every day. I finally had the chance to really be myself. Kids around me were infusing themselves and dealing with all the same things I was.
Fostering connection and responsibility
I wanted to take the idea of being with people going through similar issues and combine it with my love of fishing. So I created my organization, Country Boy Fishing. Fishing is a wonderful activity for the bleeding disorders community because to protect your body, you need to be mindful of the activities you’re involved in. Fishing teaches you to be in the moment, as well as to respect and protect those around you.
People may think of fishing as a solitary sport, but it’s anything but. It truly builds community. With fishing, it’s OK to go up to a complete stranger—no matter what background they come from, what color, what political party, what religion, what gender—and ask them, “Are they biting?” And you will instantly connect with that person.
At Country Boy Fishing, we coach children with bleeding disorders to become the best fishermen they can be, whether they want to do it for fun or for college scholarships. (Yes! There are fishing college scholarships!) Bonding with others is the first philosophy; the second is responsibility. With a disease like hemophilia, it’s incredibly important to do your infusions, stay active and protect your joints and body. And lastly, there’s leadership. I put it third on purpose because being a leader isn’t about being a boss, it’s about being a servant.
Once a month, we have Family Fishing Days, where we partner with local bleeding disorders organizations across the country. I work with local departments of natural resources and industry leaders in various states to make sure everyone can catch a fish that day.
I’m honored to share my love of fishing with my community. It’s a great way to stay active that’s not hard on your body. But more than that, it’s a way to bring the bleeding disorders community together.