Turning a Lifetime Passion into Life's Work
by April Conrad
|Author's note: Since this is my initial contribution to Women Anglers, I felt it appropriate to write an "introductory" piece that paints readers a picture of how Hooked on a Cure began. Look for tips and tactics applied to fly fishing and comical travel adventures in upcoming features!
My father introduced me to fishing and golf at about the same time in my life. I suppose he determined there was something about reaching the age of seven or eight that began to equip a child with the capacity for patience in learning a potentially trying new skill. He knew me well enough by then to know I never really enjoyed the easy things anyway; the best way to get me to do something was to tell me it couldn't be done.
I had my own tackle box and rod and reel, even my own paddle-it-yourself aluminum boat when I was 9. When I wasn't trying to catch every species of fish in the little three-acre pond behind my house, I was at the golf course, trying to convince everyone I was the next Nancy Lopez. In the many moves our family made over the years, we always lived on or near water, so the interest stuck.
I was privy to the only-child-that-was-supposed-to-be-a-boy syndrome, which meant I was LUCKY. Such a privilege earned me the right to learn how to shoot a gun, hunt, fish, fly a plane, throw darts, play cards and drive when I was 10 on the back country roads. Very few things were considered off-limits, and encouragement to try new things presented itself often. I learned how to do a lot of things, some of them well. Most importantly, I learned how to be happy being me; a trait I hope to pass on to my own children as they grow.
Such freedom and encouragement is not, however, without its shortcomings. If the world is your oyster, sometimes it's necessary to face the fact that things can often smell pretty rotten before you find a pearl. Now I don't live on cliches, but if you get too used to having things on a platter before you, you tend to forget that sometimes it can end up on your head. The bumps in the road have made me grateful for what I have, quick to note all it usually takes is one good look around to realize someone else always has it worse than you think you do.
The combination of all these things culminated in a lifetime passion for golf and fishing, sports that share similarities on many levels, and for the unending pursuit of new adventures. I did grow up to live my dream of playing professional golf, retiring from competition only when a nagging shoulder injury and desire for a family led me down a different path. The passion for fishing continued into my adult married life, and fly fishing in particular, now holds a special place in my heart. If it were not for this precious combination, I don't think I would have been fortunate enough to stumble onto what has now become my life's work...
Don't get me wrong. I am thankful for God's generous blessings, and I am a wife and mother above all else. When raising children in such a complicated world, it's not unusual to have a desire to leave a legacy of something more; to somehow attempt to make a difference in the lives of others. The opening sentence of the inaugural Hooked on a Cure commemorative program greeting says that, "at certain blessed times in our lives we have the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves." Through the grace of the God, an idea came to me as I literally drove down the road, taking my son to the doctor.
To tell the story completely requires backtracking eight years, to the days when I still played competitive golf. A trip to the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis to see old friends culminated in a strange series of events that ended with my being asked to be the guest professional at the Ladies of St. Jude annual golf tournament later that summer. Part of the day would hold the opportunity to give a golf lesson to one or more children being treated at St. Jude.
To say that one day changed my life would not be an exaggeration. The strength and courage that filled that young girl and her family moved me. I admired her infectious smile and determination to master the task at hand. In the grand scope of her life at that moment, taking a golf lesson would have seemed to me to be so trivial, so inconsequential when compared to her challenge in life, and yet she gave it her all. I left the day feeling it was I who had learned the lesson, and it filled me with a determination to help on a larger scale.
I kept in touch with my new St. Jude friends for the next eight years, always mentioning in conversation my desire to "do something" for the hospital. My reluctance to hold a charity golf tournament stemmed from two things: I had already produced several large charity golf events and wanted to do something different for St. Jude, because, secondly, hundreds of golf events were being held all over the country for them already. Remember, I mentioned I've never liked the easy things. So, I took the format that I knew from golf tournaments and started to formulate the ideas for holding Hooked on a Cure.
For countless hours, my husband and I were a committee of two; late night logistical discussions after the kids were asleep, numerous phone calls to friends in fly fishing to determine if in fact the idea was feasible, and then the call to St. Jude to tell them we "had it!" A hard road lay ahead, as it is with any first-time event. Per the agreement we made with St. Jude, we were now responsible for procuring all sponsors, participants, volunteers, you name it; but it was easy getting people on board to help such a worthy cause. And though my husband threatened to sell all his fishing equipment and quit forever (more than once) because fly fishing consumed our every discussion as we neared the dates of the first Hooked on a Cure, the day did come and he does still fish.
The inaugural Hooked on a Cure Celebrity Fly Fishing Classic, held Arkansas' famed White River in June 2003, netted $30,000 for St. Jude. We made so many new and wonderful friends who are now committed to help us fulfill Danny Thomas' dream that "no child shall die in the dawn of life." During the times when it all seems to much to handle, I just look at my own precious children and think, " What if it were me?"
Now the dream is reality. Two of my greatest passions in life, instilled by my father, came together to present that which I know I was meant to do with my time and talents. With loving support from my family, and countless hours of work and support from volunteers and friends, I know the dream will live on and grow into something none of us can imagine at this juncture. It is truly bigger than us all.