Paralyzed Fisherman Finds Happiness on the Water

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John Harris is a paralyzed tournament bass fisherman.

John Harris is a paralyzed tournament bass fisherman.

John Harris is an inspiring and extraordinary man who lives without the use of his legs. A tragic car accident in 1983 left John paralyzed from the waist down. He survived. His cousin did not. Young and foolish at the time, John is quick to admit alcohol was a factor in the wreck. He also bravely speaks of the depression and substance abuse he fought for years.

John knows the emotional struggle some people with life altering disabilities battle. He hopes those suffering will one day be able to find a saving grace as he did. For John, his saving grace is bass fishing.

John is a tournament bass angler. He’s popular amongst his peers for both his refreshing personality and bass fishing skills. Polite, courteous, and completely open to the idea of me telling his story, John and I set up a date to hit the water.

Immediately upon pulling into the parking lot, I spotted John’s truck with its windows covered in sponsor logos. I walked over to introduce myself and found John rearing to go. He opened the door to his truck, took out his wheel chair and slid into it. He wheeled over to his boat and asked myself and another guy to lift him up to the side so he could pull himself in. At this point I hadn’t known John for about a minute, and I was already wrapping my arm around him and giving him a boost. This struck me immediately as a sign of his comfort with his situation, which I’ve failed to see in others handicapped to John’s extent. Then he flipped me the keys to his truck and said, “You know how to back a boat in don’t you?”

“Of course,” I said, as I slid into the driver’s seat and began backing his beautiful Ranger bass boat down the ramp. I was touched by the trust.

Stepping off the dock and into John’s boat, another aspect of John became clear to me; he’s a talker. Outgoing, friendly, however you want to define it, John is simply a great guy.

“I didn’t used to like anyone to help me,” John said. “For a long time I wanted to prove I could take care of himself.”

Now he says he is happy accept the help of a friend or a stranger. “I figured out there are a lot of really good people out there who are willing to help for the right reasons,” he said. “And I’m not so young anymore, you know.”

Although John appreciates the help, he can still take care of himself. He explained to me the process he goes through to launch his boat when there isn’t anyone around to help. First, he backs his boat down to the water. Then he ties a ski rope to the boat and attaches the rope to the dock at the ramp. He then gets back in the truck and backs the boat into the water until it floats off the trailer. He then parks his truck, wheels down to the dock, pulls the boat to him, slides out of his chair into the boat, pulls the chair into the boat with him, and takes off to his fishing destination. When the trip is over, he simply reverses the process to get the boat out.

As John and I were speeding across the lake, with me holding on for dear life and John smiling like a child who just stole a few cookies before dinner, he began to tell me about his tournament fishing. John fishes plenty of local tournaments, but what he enjoys most is fishing the Paralyzed Veterans of America Bass Tour. The PVA Bass Tour is a Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society sanctioned tour that consists of tournaments across the country open to contestants with spinal cord injuries. A person does not have to be paralyzed or a veteran to compete, but they must be disabled due to a spinal cord injury.

“I went with a group from the PVA who took four wounded military personnel from Walter Reed Hospital fishing for a couple of days on Fayette County Reservoir in Texas,” he explained. “It was a great experience. There were actual FLW professionals fishermen on hand to fish with these guys, and Wal-Mart gave each of them a very generous allowance for fishing gear. It was amazing to see how this trip lifted the spirits of those wounded soldiers. And by seeing other people like me there, hopefully they realize they can still do the things they love, like fishing.”

John and I spent the evening fishing our way along a rocky shoreline. It was an emotional and inspiring experience for me to watch him overcome his disability as he pushed and pulled his way around the boat with a constant smile on his face. He out fished me six bass to three. But I wasn’t concerned with catching fish. I learned so much about the human spirit and mans’ ability to persevere in just one evening with John. He is a bright light in a dark room. A shinning example of how happiness is attainable if we’ll only strive for it. For John, a man who has been through a lot of hardship, happiness is found fishing.

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler


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