I was sitting at gate A6 in Lambert St. Louis airport heading to Atlanta for the 48th AJC Peachtree Road Race, the biggest foot race in America with its 60,000 entrants. Sitting across from me was a guy wearing a fishing vest over a checkered shirt, jeans, half-boots, and a ball cap. We don’t see too many such as he on the road circuit. But such is the nature of sport in its kaleidoscopic array.
Whether aerobic, anaerobic, or hardly breathing at all, sport continues to animate the American experience, hovering near war on the most revered of its activities list. Over the course of many years I have covered a number of sports other than my specialty, foot racing, including, oddly enough, sumo wrestling. But in the mid-1990s I worked on a series for ESPN called In Pursuit that followed the exploits of disabled athletes all over the globe over a wide expanse of the sporting spectrum. In April 1998 I was assigned to cover the 12th U.S. Open Bass Tourney on Lake Monroe in Sanford, Florida.
“Bass fishing?” I queried my producer, wondering how I had received the assignment. But once I dipped my journalistic toe in the water, I soon found out that competitive fishing, like competitive anything, reveals itself to be a world of peculiar charms and attractions that can stand against any other sporting contest.
Upon reaching Lake Monroe, the first thing I wanted to know, as I did when approaching any new contest I was unfamiliar with was, “where is the competitive dynamic? Where’s does IT happen?”
In short order what I learned was that professional bass fishing was a sport of high pressure and calm nerves, a combination that began even before the first lure was cast. And what I eventually came to fully understand, even appreciate, was whether it was balls-out racing or tender hooking an elusive gill-flapper, the common denominator in all sport revealed the human capacity to handle pressure under fire. Continue reading