To Catch a Captain

Mike Short, Catch-A-Dream Volunteer Host

     “Mike, how are your sea legs these days?” That was how my introduction to offshore fishing with Captain Tom Bailas began. Little did I know then the impact that he and his wife, first mate Trisha, would have on me for years to come.  A bond born on the rolling seas off the Florida Coast that will last a lifetime. In late September of this year, a call came in from Catch-A-Dream headquarters as our Project Manager was planning to grant a dream trip to a child with a life-threatening illness. This young man wanted to catch fish — big fish! It would be my second seafaring Catch-A-Dream adventure with this outfitter, TNT Charters out of Venice Florida. I was nervous about this one, I must admit, and so was Captain Tom. Early season fishing following a devastating red tide can be a challenging recipe for catching fish, unless that is, God is smiling on every part of the trip and the boat is in the good hands of Captain Tom and Trisha, the husband and wife team that makes up TNT Charters.

The Catch-A-Dream Foundation is a unique organization with a purposeful mission, they grant a once in a lifetime hunting or fishing experience to children who face life-threatening or terminal medical conditions. When I became a Volunteer Host and went on my first trip with a child and family, I knew it would be a lifelong commitment.  To see the joy and happiness brought to a child’s life just by taking them away from the world of medicine, treatments and hospital beds is both gratifying and life changing. Catch-A-Dream makes dreams come true, but it is more importantly about sharing a message of Hope and reminding the child and their family that regardless of the trial they have before them, they are loved beyond measure by our God and creator.

Catch-A-Dream adventures would not be possible without outfitter partners who believe in this mission and vision, and also provide the fishing or hunting opportunities to fulfill the dream of each child. The unique partnership between the Catch-A-Dream Host and the outfitter is an important part of each adventure.  From the first time I met Tom and Trisha I knew they were a keeper. There was no pretense and no put-on show. They are who they are. They love children and all those who are going through challenging circumstances.  They are passionate about touching the lives of others in a memorable way. They have embraced and embody the notion that to really be blessed in life, you need to share your blessings with others. They seek to live out the scripture that reminds us, “to whom much is given, from him much is expected.” They view their life as being incredibly blessed, and they want to share those blessings with others who might otherwise never be able to experience a fishing trip like they can provide.

In this case the trip was about fish and, from what I understand, fish can sometimes be a bit finicky. After all, it’s a big ocean and they have lots of options for meals. A Catch-A-Dream trip with Tom and Trisha is not just about catching fish. Make no mistake, that’s going to happen, I assure you; but they want more for the child than merely catching a trophy. They want to know all they can about the child and the family. They want to know about school, friends and prom dates. They want to know about medicines, treatment protocols and prognosis. They make each child a part of their family. When the trip concludes, the relationship is just beginning. That child is going to hear often from Trisha and Tom. When the child or family least expect it, a text or message will arrive in their inbox. Captain Tom and Trisha become a part of that child’s circle of friendship and love. For them it’s not just a “fishing trip,” it’s a “lifetime commitment trip.”

Well, we caught fish — lots of them! We caught big ones and small ones, fat ones and skinny ones.  Funny looking ones and some that left us scratching our heads in wonder at God’s handiwork. But more importantly, the young man on this trip forgot for a moment that he was sick and battling against a disease that seeks to rob him of the joys of life. Tom and Trisha made him laugh, in between loving shouts of “reel, reel, reel”, they let him know he was loved and cherished. They helped him see that relationships are one of the things in life that matter most, and that God provides HOPE for a brighter tomorrow; and for eternity. They “get it.”

Catch-A-Dream doesn’t conquer the child’s illness, but it does bring a glimmer of joy into a difficult circumstance. And not every Catch-A-Dream experience happens in Florida, and even fewer with Captain Tom and Trisha.  But this I know:  every child that takes a ride on Captain Tom’s boat is going to experience so much more than just a fishing trip. They are going to create a memory and most likely land a trophy that will live in their memory and often include a replica to place on their wall or mantle. More importantly, the light of hope shared by a Captain, a first mate, and a volunteer host, can help shine through the most difficult circumstances imaginable. For me that is enough; and for a salty, sea grizzled captain with a laugh that can drown out a boat motor, it is enough as well.

Captain Tom knows that a Catch-A-Dream charter is not about the fish you catch, it’s about the hope you share. That’s probably why at the end of this trip Captain Tom looked me at me through tear filled eyes and told me, “Mike, you tell Catch-A-Dream  I’ll take all they can send”. I know he means every word. I count it as a blessing and honor to have the opportunity to represent Catch-A-Dream and, when that duty takes me there, to ride on Captain Tom’s boat. I will always refer to him as the “Captain who didn’t get away”. He’s like a younger brother to me — almost as handsome, but with a better tan. Burn the sails Captain Tom…you are home.

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