Colorado’s Jarrett Edwards was practicing for the Tour event at Clarks Hill Reservoir when neck soreness from wearing a new helmet caused him to get a check-up. That led to a diagnosis on March 31st of Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer. Left undiagnosed, doctors told him his life expectancy would have been about 18 months. “That helmet might have saved my life,” he said.
Edwards and wife, Rebecca (high school sweethearts who celebrated their first wedding anniversary on May 15th) decided on an immediate and aggressive form of chemotherapy/radiation treatment.
“It’s been a tough road so far, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” the 25-year-old angler said. “We feel really good about it.
“I’m currently through my third chemo, which is the halfway point. I have three more chemos to go, followed by a month of radiation. It’s always scary at first and the first chemo just about killed me – literally. I was in the hospital for a week and a half, and my white blood cell count, which is your immune system, dropped all the way down to 140 when it’s normally at 6,000.
“Luckily, things are looking up now, and I’m excited to get back in the boat and do some fishing.”
Edwards has had to endure a torturous chemotherapy treatment every other Tuesday. With his latest dose of the second-strongest chemo cocktail available, he said X-rays indicated that the “fist and a half-sized” tumor near his heart appears to have disappeared.
“I feel so blessed,” he said. “Chemo is really tough. The doctors told me, ‘Just remember that what’s killing you now will heal you in the end.’ I believe it now. I know I’m going through hell for a reason.”
During his darkest moments, Edwards has gained strength from the bass fishing community.
“The support from the Tour anglers has been amazing,” he said. “And the fans – you think you have fans out there, but you don’t really know until something like this hits home. I’ve gotten 434 emails from fans so far.
“It just brings a tear to your eye knowing that people took five minutes out of their day to give you a call or send you an email — to know that you have a lot of support out there. I really rely on those when I have bad days after chemo. I go back and read them, and suddenly my cancer doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.”
With the end of his treatments in sight, Edwards is thinking more and more about fishing.
“I’ve snuck out a few times and just played around on the water,” he admitted. “The doctors feel by the end of August I can be back in a boat and out there firing away, so I’m hoping to make one of the Western Opens. I really look forward to it.
“My goal is to get back to the Opens at the end of this summer, and I really look forward to getting back on Tour.
“This whole thing changes you. Like it or not, it changes you, and you look at things a lot differently.”
Mark Menendez understands.
It was while practicing for the Lake Guntersville Tour stop that the 40-year-old Kentucky pro was struck with meningitis and had to be hospitalized for more than a week. It began with an excruciating headache, followed by a high fever. That led to a spinal tap that indicated he had contracted meningitis, a life-threatening ailment.
Fortunately, Menendez had been taking antibiotics after periodontal surgery for several months. Unknowingly pre-treating the meningitis likely saved his life, according to doctors.
Since then, recovery has been slow, but steady.
“I’m coming back,” the three-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier said. “Things are starting to improve quicker now. I’m starting to fish a lot more here around the house. I’m starting to feel a lot better.
“When I left Guntersville the doctor said recovery would take two to six months. I thought I’d be back at it in a week or two, but she knew more about it than I did. It still presents a lot of challenges, especially endurance. The fishing part of it is not a problem. If he bites, I can still catch him. Endurance is the thing I’m worried about right now.
“I don’t have any leftover symptoms at this point. When I first got home, my eyesight was severely affected; I couldn’t see very well. When the meningitis symptoms went away, the swelling on the spinal cord and the brain went down and everything started coming back to normal.”
At the time of his diagnosis, Menendez and wife, Donna, were adjusting to life with a 6-month-old daughter and had just received word that she was pregnant with a son.
“It made me just kind of slow down,” he said. “The last six or seven years I had been going wide-open running here and there.
“Getting some time at home gave me some perspective on what’s really important, and I’m kind of readjusting my schedule to do the things that I need to do and spend time at home with my family. It really has made a big difference.”
Like Edwards, Menendez is anxious to resume his career.
“I’m going to fish the Southern Opens,” he said. “I’d like a shot at the 2006 Classic. By time the Tour starts again, I think I’ll be 100 percent.
“The unfortunate thing about this is I lost my Elite 50 position, and I won’t be able to get that back for three years, but it’s still better being in the position I’m in and not looking at the backside of the daisies, if you know what I mean.”
GREATEST ANGLER DEBATE. New Jersey’s Michael Iaconelli was one of the 35 semi-finalists in the ESPN Greatest Angler Debate. Inside BASS asked him whom he would vote for as the best of the best.
“Absolutely, without a doubt, Rick Clunn,” he said. “They’re all amazing anglers, but I think Rick has done the most for the overall advancement of the sport from a fisherman’s perspective.
“Where he’s taken fishing from the mental side of it – analyzing the situations, learning behavior – that, to me, is amazing. You add in there the Anglers of the Year, the Classics —he’s the quintessential professional angler. If you were to open a dictionary and see a picture of a professional angler, it would be Rick Clunn.”
The Greatest Angler Debate series is part of BASS Saturday on ESPN2. The programming features biographical shows on the top 10 anglers as well as debate among experts. Fans will find stats and stories in the pages of Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times, Bassmaster.com and on the weekly ESPN Outdoors radio show. In June and July, the debate will heat up again as the fans choose between the top two anglers during a second round of voting on Bassmaster.com.
The debate will conclude in Pittsburgh — at the 2005 Classic — when two champions are crowned. One will be given the Classic trophy and the other – or perhaps even the same angler! – will be hailed as the greatest angler of all time.
WEIRDEST CATCH. BASS winner Jim Morton once snagged a firearm while competing in a Bassmaster event on the Arkansas River.
While cranking a Wiggle Wart in 10 feet of water along the edge of a boat ramp during the final round, the Oklahoma pro recorded the strangest catch of his lengthy career. When the crankbait's movement was interrupted, Morton automatically responded by setting the hook — snagging the recoil pad on a long-forgotten pump-action shotgun.
“A Wiggle Wart will catch anything in a lake,” he said, laughing. “It fought kind of like a dead stick, but then it started swimming on me. I asked my partner what I had on there and he peeked over the boat and said ‘Oh my God, it's a shotgun.’ ”
The shotgun, which was covered with Zebra mussels, was later examined closely by Pine Bluff police officials in case it might be linked to a crime. “I've caught bed springs, and I even caught an old ice chest one time,” Morton added, “but that was the craziest thing I've ever caught.”
DID YOU KNOW? This one’s for all of you trivia nuts out there: Where was the site of the first pro-am format tournament BASS ever held? Give up? It was the 1990 Florida Invitational on Lake Okeechobee.
PRO BIRTHDAYS. Tennessee’s Jack Wade becomes 49 on June 8th. Michael Iaconelli and Chad Brauer of Missouri turn 33 on June 17th and 19th, respectively. Ish Monroe will be 31 on June 20th. Five days later veteran Pennsylvania pro Randall Romig becomes 55. Arkansas’ Ron Shuffield celebrates his 49th birthday on June 27th while Californian Skeet Reese will blow out 36 candles on June 30th.
IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO… BASS winner Mike Wurm gave up a career as a medical technologist when his fishing career was established.
THEY SAID IT. “If this is your dream, kids, don't ever let anybody tell you that you can't do it because it's definitely possible for anybody in this crowd or anywhere to do what I have done. I think that's what I proved by winning the Classic this year — that it can be done. Always work as hard as you can and put as much as you can into it, and don't give up.” Poignant words from 1994 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Bryan Kerchal to the weigh-in crowd at Lake Lanier — the last tournament he would ever fish. He died in a plane crash 10 days later.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.Bassmaster.com.