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Anglers partner for fun outing

Ben Cumber, at left, guided Brad Livingston and his therapy dog Roxy. It was Roxy’s first trip on the water and she loved the experience. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

By Sarah Smith

It took a small village of volunteers to launch Midwest Outdoors Unlimited’s inaugural fishing contest on Island Lake Sunday, and it was worth every effort, participants said.

The contest paired anglers with disabled vets and handicapped individuals in an afternoon of fishing. The program is modeled after UFFDA, the United Foundation for Disabled Archers, which pairs disabled hunters with able-bodied ones for hunting excursions. MOU’s new chapter, Headwaters Partners sponsored the fishing event.

“Did you see the smiles on their faces at the end of the day?” asked MOU staffer Sam Hunter. The event  included a multi-species fishing tournament and lunch afterwards. “We had more guides than clients. We’re just blown away by the outreach.”

“It was a great time,” said fishing guide Ben Cumber of Park Rapids. More importantly, Cumber said, “I made a new friend.” Cumber found he had a lot in common with his fishing partner, Brad Livingston. Cumber, a firefighter, and Livingston, a community activist, spent the month of May fighting the Green Valley Fire and raising funds for the victims.

“Can I say something?” client Kevin Bommersbach interjected before the awards ceremony. “I just want to thank all of you that came out for this.”

Vietnam vets, a sight-impaired man, and others with disabilities participated along with Livingston and Bommersbach. And thanks to Cumber, Livingston’s therapy dog, Roxy, is now  a seasoned water dog.

Livingston had some initial qualms about putting Roxy in a boat 

for the first time. Dog and owner were both beaming when the boat came ashore.

“She loved it!” Livingston said upon alighting from the boat.

Fishing guides Jason Durham of Nevis and Dennis Mackedanz of Osage, found themselves in unique pairings, also. Durham, a kindergarten teacher, was paired with former student Cody Wicks. Wicks also was Durham’s high school aid.

“We’ve been fishing a few times,” Durham allowed. “It’s a perfect day.”

The two caught 96 inches of fish. Because there was no weigh-in, the guides suggested measuring success by the inch. That way anglers wouldn’t have to interrupt the fishing to head in to a scale.

Mackedanz, on the other hand, was paired with his former teacher, Bill Ryan of Paynesville, and a fellow classmate who tagged along.

Ryan started grousing the minute he got back to shore. “It was nothing but abuse,” he said to uproarious laughter. Ryan, a combat wounded vet, clearly was having a ball. He enjoyed his former students turning the tables on him, being the experts teaching their skills.

The camaraderie of the event was apparent even before the fishing partnerships were announced. Vets swapped foxhole stories with non-vets, who couldn’t understand why moving dirt around was a military priority.

“I caught a 22-inch Northern right off the dock” as the boat was coming in, grinned client Randy Falknor of Sartell. Falknor’s wheelchair took a bumpy trip to a waiting pontoon, but he still enjoyed the event.

Docks on lakes that lost their water levels over the summer are generally not handicapped-accessible and maybe weren’t at the beginning of the season. But that’s where the event succeeded. A few lifts by the guides and Falknor was fishing, something he said he hadn’t done in years. He was like most of his compatriot clients.

In the end Livingston and Cumber each took home a plaque and MOU members talked about planning for next year.

“We want to grow a little bit every year,” Hunter said.

They praised the community support, especially for the donated prizes, food and beverages.

Hunter recalled that local businesses, upon hearing of the event, asked “What do you need? They were just give, give, give,” she said.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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