Sunday, April 30, 2000

Fishing day gets people hooked


Event lets disabled enjoy time on water

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        Yvonne Oliver is a modern-day old-style mail carrier: she knows the names of all the people on her Hyde Park route, delivers the mail through rain and snow (without getting your letters wet), and always has a smile and some cheerful conversation.

        When she noticed that Chuck Locy, one of the residents on her route was receiving a lot of mail from a place called “Fishing Has No Boundaries,” she recognized the name from some literature she'd picked up at the January Hunting and Fishing Show and asked him to tell her more.

        That was two months ago. Now, Yvonne Oliver is raising money, gathering food, recruiting volunteers — and looking forward to the Fifth Annual Disabled Angler Event with the excitement some of us reserve for birthday parties and family celebrations.

        Begun in 1986 in Hayward, Wis., by an avid fisherman temporarily disabled by a broken leg, Fishing Has No Boundaries is a national nonprofit organization committed to bringing the joy of fishing and boating to children and adults with disabilities.

        This year, events will be held in Arizona, Wyoming, Illinois, Minnesota, and several other states, including the Greater Cincinnati Chapter's fifth event May 20 at East Fork Lake.

        “It's pretty rewarding,” Ms. Oliver says. “And I figure if being on the water is fun for me, it's going to be fun for kids and adults with disabilities, too.”

A year of planning
        The event takes all year to plan, explains Bill Reichert, a retired high school math teacher, who has co-chaired the event for three years now with Chuck Locy. “The boats, the food, the fishing equipment — everything is donated by area businesses and individuals who want to help.”

        The event begins at 8:30 in the morning with registration and a continental breakfast. Participants are assigned boats and fishing gear, fish for a few hours, return for a catered lunch, and go back out on the lake for more fishing. About 3 p.m., boats come back in for awards, trophies, and door prizes.

        When it comes to awarding trophies, the organization gets pretty creative. In addition to recognizing the expected “biggest fish” and “most fish,” last year's awards included “most persevering” to someone who had come for three years before experiencing that first bite.

        “We used to call it a tournament,” Mr. Reichert says, “but it's not a tournament. It's just a day of fun. Some of these people have never caught a fish before. Some have never had a boat ride.”

Adapted equipment
        Participants in the past have included children and adults with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries and other disabilities.

        Six or eight pontoon boats carry participants in wheelchairs, and a variety of V-bottom boats are used for ambulatory fishers.

        Anyone with a disability is welcome, Mr. Reichert says. Family members are welcome, too.

        Traditional fishing rods and reels are used, along with a few adapted electric reels for those with limited hand mobility.

        The fish in East Fork lake, Mr. Reichert says, are bass, stripers, catfish, and carp — and most of them go right back into the water after being reeled in and admired.

        Last year's Disabled Angler Event hosted about 40 participants with disabilities. This year, the group hopes to reach 100.

        Yvonne Oliver will be there — delivering food and fun and assistance instead of the U.S. mail on one May Saturday.

        She draws the line, though, saying: “I don't do bait.”

        Cincinnati writer Deborah Kendrick is a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, Tempo, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. E-mail: dkendrick@enquirer.com.

       



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