Overcoming Adversity with Angling

Overcoming Adversity with Angling

Not often do you meet someone who inspires you. I’m not talking about someone who is a celebrity or a professional athlete. I mean a person who inspires by how they show courage and fight through adversity without the world watching or cheering them on.

Meet Saylor, a standout gymnast, honor roll student, incredible angler, and all-around great kid. At first glance she might remind you of just any 14 year old kid. Well, turns out, she has more strength, grit, and determination than even she imagined.

With her gymnastics season in full swing, Saylor spent her weekdays taking care of her schoolwork and practicing hard in the gym. Weekends were a mix of fishing with her father, Matt and gym practice. You can see the pride in Matt’s face when he speaks about Saylor’s drive to be a great student, an excellent gymnast and even her dedication to being a better angler. “Just as she practices on the Vault, she will be out in the driveway casting at our trashcan so she is ready next time I take her and her little sister fishing”, he laughs. 

I always got a chuckle about how Saylor would practice casting or how she would press her dad to fish a little bit longer. I have known Matt for several years, and we would share fishing stories chat about rod building and he even worked in the same company as my wife. So, we were pretty good friends.

I listened as he described how a normal day of competition turned into over 18 months of incredibly hard work. “It seems like a bit of a blur now that I think back about all of it. From watching your daughter doing something she loves, and is very good at, to then having to learn to walk again…its tough”, Matt described.

During her gymnastics competition, 14-year-old Saylor encountered a significant injury while executing a vault, dramatically altering her world. After landing she immediately felt pain in her ankle, rendering her unable to bear any weight on it. Since this was in the heat of competition season and another gymnastics competition around the corner, Saylor promptly sought medical assistance. Despite consulting multiple doctors and undergoing numerous MRIs, her condition showed no improvement. As time passed, the pain in her foot extended to her leg and back.

While feeling like they were running out of options, Matt and Saylor visited a nearby neurologist. Saylor was then diagnosed with Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, characterized by excessive and prolonged pain and inflammation following an injury. Subsequently, she was referred to Nemours Children’s Health and upon evaluation it was discovered that Saylor also suffered from a severe case of Functional Neurologic Disorder.

“Functional Neurological Disorder had completely removed me from all my daily activities,” says Saylor. “I had gone from an Honor Roll student who practiced 30 hours per week to compete in gymnastics, to being restricted in all movements. My ability to participate in gymnastics was immediately stopped. I would sit and watch my teammates prepare for upcoming competitions, as I tried to cheer them on. Originally at school, I was able to maneuver from classes on crutches, and my teachers would allow me to sit on the side and prop my injured leg on a chair. After some time, I began to have spasms in front of the other students. They became severe and regular enough that I had to discontinue going to class. My teachers were very helpful and allowed me to work on assignments virtually from home. I missed weeks of school and time that would have been spent with friends and family.”

During these times, we would get updates on Saylor’s condition and how she wanted to fish the minute she was better. Matt told me about how she wanted to catch a bonefish and a permit when she could fish again. We both enjoyed hearing how, in typical Saylor fashion, she was setting lofty goals. Even now I remember when I heard what her plans were, I had a no reason to doubt her.

As she progressed, Matt would send photos and video of her walking, getting stronger and of course making lures to catch her bonefish and permit. Matt and I spoke numerous times as Saylor was showing great progress. Not only could I hear the excitement in his voice for her great strides physically but he was wanting a day of fishing with her just like they had before. "Ok man, lets plan a day to get on your books. She says she is ready!", Matt said in a phone call. 

We were months out but I made sure to block off a few days just incase the mother nature had other plans. I knew Saylor would be ready, so we tried to align all the variables the best we could. 

Well the day finally came and the morning was shaping up to be a beautiful one. She mentioned how one of her main goals was to get back on the water with her father.  As we idled out she mentioned a few things about her journey, "“Getting back to daily routines can be difficult,” explains Saylor. “It is so important to have confidence in yourself, and to remember that it’s OK to have a setback. It’s how you respond to that setback that is important. I plan to take advantage of the second opportunity that I have been given."

With her sights on her first permit and bonefish I was going to do everything in my power to make that happen.  I had no doubt Saylor could get it done if given the opportunity.   

It did not take long for her to show off her skills with a fishing rod. It was a calm summer morning in South Florida and the fish showed up. Armed with a custom NEPS86LMF-MHX, built just like the one her father Matt built her, she sent her jig towards a group of feeding bonefish and...well, we both know she made it happen. 

Here is a link to my Technical Flats 7’2” Light Spinning Rod Kit Saylor used to catch her Bonefish. 

As the morning progressed the chatter about permit was growing. She was asking about how they look in the water, how they travel, what tides do we see them. I could tell she was excited but not antsy. Another bonefish added to the morning before we spotted the permit. I saw a school a good ways out so it allowed us to be sure everyone was in position. As I poled closer I coached her on how to make the cast and where to place it on the edge of the school. Since it was very calm we had to play a bit of a cat and mouse game to get into casting range.  Finally the fish appeared to be relaxed and slowly headed our direction. Saylor calmly took her shot that she had waited for and just as her lure hit the water, the fish was on! 

The nervous excitement was heavy. It is very difficult to get permit to eat in these conditions and with this fish it was not going to be a quick fight. She did everything right. Her father Matt watching her fight this fish, and looking back at me with fist pumping and silent expletives, was incredible to see. 

As Saylor steered her permit into the net and I lifted it over the gunwale, an immeasurable wave of emotion came over that boat. Smiles, tears, hugs and high fives all around. It was one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of on the water. For all the wrong things that had happened in this world, fishing seemed to make it all right. 

Here is a link to my Versatile Inshore 7’ Light Spinning Rod Kit Saylor used to catch her Permit. 

Again, Saylor came through with her permit and multiple bonefish. I was honored to be on the skiff that day to watch this strong, talented young lady set goals, and achieve them. She has a bright future in anything she sets her mind to, I’ll bet on it.

Don't worry, dad got to fish some too. He caught two bonefish but Saylor's fish were bigger... of course. 

Reading next

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.