Fishing and Fighting Go Hand In Hand

By: Sarah De Lazzer

September is the perfect time for the Orange Beach Fishing Association and Zeke’s Marina to volunteer to charter about thirty kids for a deep sea fishing adventure, but not because of fine weather or less tourist traffic. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the kids they took fishing this past weekend all battle pediatric cancer. Captain Maurice (“Fitz.”) Fitzsimmons and the “Shady Lady,” Captain Ben Fairey and the Necessity, and Captain Steve Faust and the “Aquastar,” waited at the docks Sunday morning as the kids from Camp Rap-A-Hope, in Mobile climbed aboard ready to begin
their adventure. Zeke’s Marina manager Tom Steber donated fuel and bait, and Iris Ethridge, of the Orange Beach Fishing Association coordinated the volunteer deck hands.

Alabama Department of Natural Resources director Chris Blakenship, and officer Jason Herrmann conducted a survey on the trip making it possible for some of the out of season red snapper caught to be kept. The grand finale would be a hot meal for the kids at Wolf Bay Lodge. Fitzsimmons said he started this tradition twenty one years ago. It was so gratifying an experience that he “promised these kids with cancer would always have a trip as long as he had a fishing license and a boat.”

After a few minutes on the boats it’s easy to see why people volunteer year after year to spend time fishing with these kids. Childhood cancer forces these ordinary children and their families to face great hardships both physically, emotionally and financially. It creates extraordinary character in the kids afflicted. Ben Baltz walks on a carbon fiber running blade. Diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in 2008, his parents Kim and J.C. made the hard decision to amputate his leg, “to allow him to run and be like other kids.” He comes to the camp every year to meet other kids like himself and one year
actually road Molly, a Shetland pony which survived Hurricane Katrina but suffered an amputated leg too. Ben recently finished a triathlon and has been a bat boy for the Wounded Warriors Amputee Baseball Team. He is a survivor with clear scans as recently as this past April. He barreled onto the boat ready to catch fish, as did kids in all stages of cancer treatment.

As deck hands baited hooks and directed how to recognize a fish biting, the kids dropped lines. As Ben, Cru, Isaac, Richard, Sydney or Shelby would tire every one of them continued to cheer each
other on as they fought to bring the fish up. “These kids always support each other and it’s just one of the reasons why I love my job,” said Camp Rap-A-Hope Assistant Director Roz Dorsett, explaining that it takes the entire year to raise the funds for the one week of camp for the kids up to age 18.

Former camper, now a camp counselor, Kasie Forman shows the spirit of these kids in her daily life. Diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 12, Kasie knows first- hand what it’s like to go through isolation during treatments and to hold your tears to spare a parent pain. When she was well enough she began to volunteer with the American Cancer Society, and in 2009 founded to provide support to groups and tutoring to kids with cancer.

Now a public relations and marketing major at the University of West Florida, Kasie said she and about 100 volunteers currently help over 1000 kids from all over the country, and she is now working to “get financial assistance for their families as well.” And even though she just finished eight weeks of cancer treatments herself, Kasie volunteered to fish with the Camp Rap-A-Hope campers. Understanding their illness, she battled her nausea, lying next to some them as they rested, and encouraging them as they fought to bring up their fish.