Fishing for a Cause

 

Fishing for a Cause

Team FFMD and Their Amazing Mission

The 43-foot Everglades® center console, powered by quad Yamaha F350 outboards, cruised out of Snake Creek, the cut between the Atlantic and Florida Bay at the south end of Islamorada, and headed into a breeze that would continue to pick up throughout the day. Aboard were members of Team FFMD (Fishing for Muscular Dystrophy), with the owner and team captain Paul Robertson at the helm. They were competing in the final day of the Jimmy Johnson Quest for the Ring Series dubbed the National Billfish Championship, a major tournament in South Florida’s winter-long sailfish season, and considered by many to be the most prestigious.

The team cruised to an area where fishing had been good the day before and waited for the tournament committee to give the word over the VHF radio channel assigned to the event. At eight o’clock sharp, the radio crackled with the words, “LINES IN!” and the team went to work.

They deployed two kites, one from each side of the boat. Each would support three lines set in release clips at varying distances from the boat. The lines suspended live baitfish rigged on circle hooks so the bait could dance on the surface, splashing enticingly in an effort to attract the attention of passing sailfish. The morning proved slow, but a move further north towards Key Largo changed the team’s luck as two sailfish piled on the baits for a double hookup.

The Everglades® proved the perfect boat for anglers to follow the fish as they moved off in different directions. Paul maneuvered it using the big Yamaha V8s to keep pace. That double release and a single later in the day put the team in a respectable position by tournament’s end, but unfortunately, they did not place in the money. They finished 10th in the center console division and 31st overall out of the 99 boats in the tournament, a field comprised of many of the top professional sailfish teams from around the South Atlantic and Gulf states. The upstart team from Maryland did indeed have a good showing under difficult conditions, and it was obvious they made a lot of new friends along the way.

Fishing for a Cause

“We’re pleased with our performance and how our team works together,” said Paul. “This is only our second full season as a competition team with a group of volunteer anglers who pay their own way to come and fish, and we’re not the most experienced sail fishermen by any stretch of the imagination.

“But we are fast learners, and we really enjoy fishing against other teams,” he continued. “We’ve finished well in some very high profile billfish tournaments on the East Coast since we started this effort, but our main goal is to raise awareness of muscular dystrophy and funds for continued research to find a cure. We also support specific programs aimed at helping kids with the disease and their families. Most people afflicted with MD are young, and the free Muscular Dystrophy Association® summer camps mean so much to the kids. The camps also give their parents, who provide them with 24/7 support, a respite from their often-overwhelming responsibilities. That’s the real goal behind Team FFMD, and in just two short years, we’ve been quite successful. Last year, working closely with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, we raised over $900,000.  All of that money went directly to MDA and the amazing work they do. We hope to break the one million mark this year, and we’re well on our way!”

Did we mention that Paul himself has MD? Surprised that someone afflicted with a debilitating disease could run a boat and a fishing team that not only travels the country but well offshore when competing? You would not be if you met him. His drive and his determination are both compelling and uplifting. Here’s a little of his backstory.

Paul spent his summers growing up in Ocean City, Maryland, a town better known as the white marlin capital of the world, where fishing is a way of life for pretty much everybody. Naturally, Paul has had a passion for offshore fishing, or pretty much any kind of fishing actually, since boyhood. He is also a successful businessman who owns and runs a highly specialized construction company. That success allowed him to indulge his passion for fishing when he wasn’t working long hours at the company.

As he got into his 30s, he started experiencing a series of trips and stumbles, difficulty moving his feet and toes and weakness in his knees. His younger sister, Nicole, was having similar problems, and at first, they wrote it off as being clumsy. But something more serious was happening to both of them. When Paul went to a doctor complaining about the problem with his knees, he was put through an exhaustive series of tests that eventually lead to DNA tests confirming he has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD), a form of MD that usually shows up later in life, unlike the many forms of MD that afflict children from a young age. Like all MD forms, LGMD is degenerative, and it affects the muscles of the hips and legs most severely.

Though most forms of MD affect young children, Paul explained there are dozens of forms of MD, with a few like LGMD that remain hidden until later in life. Each form of the disease has a similar outcome; it robs you of mobility, and in far too many cases, your life, as muscle function in the body deteriorates. Initially, Paul had a really hard time with the diagnosis, and wouldn’t admit that he had muscular dystrophy.

“I was in denial and didn’t want people to know about it,” he said. “I was ashamed and couldn’t even bring myself to say the words, but eventually, as the disease progressed, I had to ask for help. Nicole, my sister, was diagnosed with LGMD not long after I was, and that was another blow.”

Together, they would learn that the form of MD they have is genetic and requires recessive genes from both parents be passed to the offspring for it to become active. Paul and Nicole got the genes from each parent, though neither of his parents have the disease, nor does his other sister.

Nicole accepted her situation and decided it would not become “who she was” and started pushing Paul towards acceptance. She told him he had to take control of it, he had to own it and find the strength to fight it every day. Then one of his closest friends reminded him of his dream, something Paul had told him about years earlier—his desire to put together an offshore fishing team. He followed the remainder up with two fateful words, “dreams expire.” That was the final push that changed Paul’s outlook and his life; the dream to put together an offshore fishing team and travel to compete in tournaments up and down the coast.

Paul went to work in pursuit of his dream, but he added a new twist. He was determined to find a way for the fishing team to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. After numerous letters and meetings with Stephen Dirks, the CEO of MDA, along with his executive team, Paul’s fishing team went from idea to reality, and Team FFMD (Fishing for Muscular Dystrophy) was established. Paul worked out a strategic alliance between the team and MDA that required no financial involvement on their part, just the organization’s endorsement and shared expertise in fundraising. In return, MDA is the benefactor of all the proceeds and notoriety generated by the fishing team at tournaments and the many other functions they attend and host during the year.

With an agreement in hand, Paul started pursuing corporate sponsors; his business experience was a great help. Once he gets in the door, he’s a hard guy to say no to when he’s selling his dream. His amazing character and unflagging inner strength are awe-inspiring. Bryan Harris, Vice President of Everglades® Boats, was among the first to welcome Team FFMD into the Everglades® family. The team would run Everglades boats on the tournament circuit. Yamaha Outboards followed close behind, providing power for the boats in the form of four F350 V8 engines, in addition to technical and service support. The folks at Sign Zoo wrapped the team’s boat, equipment trailer, and both tow vehicles, giving the team advertising and promotional power.

Since then, many other companies have jumped on the bandwagon. Team FFMD soon became a full-time job that required a full-time management staff. Paul made the decision to step away from his construction business, leaving its day-to-day operations in the hands of his most trusted employees so he could devote 100 percent of his time to FFMD and other MDA related fundraising projects.

Paul self-sponsors most of the expenses surrounding the team and the equipment needed to make it work while building up a war-chest of dollars raised directly for MDA as part of the FFMD platform and brand. Last year, in association with Everglades® and Yamaha, he raffled off a new 24-foot Everglades® center console boat package that generated major donations. He also held a fundraising dinner for MDA in Washington D.C. (MDA Muscle Team Gala) and has plans to host two gala/dinners in 2018 as well as three in 2019. But his most cherished memories are of the kids with MD he has met along the way and hopefully inspired to “Live Unlimited®” – a mantra that MDA promotes and Paul has adopted in his own life.

During our time aboard Team FFMD’s beautiful boat, Paul remained at the helm through two long days of fishing, a good deal of it in pretty rough seas, talking to his team members, watching the lines, chatting with other teams on the radio, and running the boat to stay on the proper drifts and when fighting fish. Even with his limited mobility, he likes to get into the tower and run the boat from on high. However, he was recovering from a broken pelvis sustained from a bad fall just 60 days before the tournament. The recovery from the injury kept him grounded to the lower station, but he assured us he would be back up there again soon. Nothing dampens the man’s enthusiasm – he is the real deal, a man on a mission fishing for a cause. Paul’s fishing team members are his extended family; he has captured their hearts and minds as they work together to make his dream a continued success.

Team FFMD fished 15 major offshore tournaments in just the second year of their existence, and the goal is to increase that to 20 in the 2018/19 offshore season. The tournament schedule will take them from Ocean City to the Gulf of Mexico with their MDA awareness caravan. At many events, they set up a hospitality tent and sell team clothing and other items, accept donations on behalf of MDA, and act as knowledgeable ambassadors for a disease that is still misunderstood by so many. Paul meets and works with kids afflicted with MD frequently during the team’s travels. Between tournaments, he strives to take kids affected by MD fishing, work on future fundraising events, and teach fishing at the three summer camps sponsored by MDA. He is truly inspirational, and Yamaha Marine is proud to be part of his ongoing efforts to bring greater awareness to the disease.

To learn more about Team FFMD go to www.fishingforMD.com. You can also follow the team on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Fishingformd. To learn more about the Muscular Dystrophy Association, visit www.mda.org.

FLASH UPDATE: Team FFMD recently finished in the money at the 27th MidAtlantic Billfish Tournament fishing out of Paul Robertson’s home port of Ocean City, Maryland. Their 69-pound white marlin took fourth place overall fishing against 157 boats, crewed by the top professional billfish teams in the country. Most of those boats are considerably larger with cabins, staterooms and other amenities, which makes this a David and Goliath matchup. The team also received a check for $141,000, and the lion’s share will be donated directly to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Y

Learn more visit Yamaha Outboards.com today.

 

 

Original Source: Sportsmans Lifestyle.com

 

 

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