By Captain Rick Ryals
New northeast Florida group aims to help families.
Like most good ideas, Sportsmen Against Childhood Cancer started with a mere coincidence.
Selah Grace Henderson was a whirling dervish of a five-year-old girl on an airplane that just happened to be seated next to Northeast Florida Fisherman Mike Bryant. Selah’s bald head was a giveaway as to why she and her parents were on their way to Jacksonville. The UF and Shands Proton Center in downtown Jacksonville treats hundreds of pediatric cancer patients every year, and Selah was on her way to start her six-week schedule of treatments.
Now I may be prejudiced (I am) but I don’t believe there are better people anywhere than the sportsmen of Northeast Florida. Of course Mike had to find out the details of Selah’s schedule, and when he found out the Hendersons were going to be staying at a hotel in Downtown Jacksonville within walking distance of her treatments, he knew the sportsmen of Northeast Florida wouldn’t stand for it. He called our local fisherman/car dealer Mark Lacovara who agreed to provide a car for the Henderson’s who would now be staying at Mike’s house instead of a hotel. The calls went out to our local sportsmen that owned restaurants, and fishing guides that may have an open day. Weekend getaways to Camachee Cove and Amelia Island were planned, and before you know it, Selah’s visit had become a six week adventure for the Henderson family. Just seeing what it meant to that family to be able to focus on something other than the atom bomb that pediatric cancer is, even for just a couple hours, was priceless.
Immediately we knew we were as hooked as a mahi on a sardine. We’re just fishermen and hunters, but we can always make room for these family members on our boats, or in our blinds. We’ve formed a group called Sportsmen Against Childhood Cancer. I can’t visualize spending six weeks in a different state or country with my primary focus being the couple hours a day my child gets therapy. Here in Jacksonville we’re now working on our fifth family since Selah headed home. Most recently 14-year-old Zack Norton was only able to handle a couple hours on the water with Capt. Chip Wingo. That was enough for Zack to catch a redfish he was so proud of he had to take it to the Ronald Mcdonald House to show it off.
There’s no way we can make life good for the people coming here to deal with pediatric cancer. But maybe, just maybe the scream of a drag, or the sight of a deer can put a lot of fears at bay for just a few hours.