While competing in the National Paralyzed Veterans of America Capital Clash Bass Fishing Tournament on June 19, Jessie Oliff perhaps received a little assistance from above.
With about 90 minutes remaining in the bank fishing portion of the tournament, the Richmond, Va., resident reeled in an 8.04-pound catfish.
“My dad passed away in 2018 and today’s Father’s Day and I really feel he’s here with me today,” said Oliff, whose catch enabled her to take both first place and the big fish award. “He put that fish right on there. I’ve caught a lot of fish and so has everybody, but I never thought I’d catch [one so big].”
The two-day tournament at Smallwood State Park in Marbury, which was also the finale of the seven-stop PVA tour, featured 70 anglers, including six in the bank division. Those fishing on boats competed individually on Saturday but teamed up with their boating partners on Sunday.
“This tournament we celebrate everything we’ve done all year,” PVA Senior Associate Director of Sports and Recreation Jennifer Purser said. “I think for us what we get to see is the final product of everything and see how everybody’s doing.”
The tournament was last held in 2018, though there was a non-sanctioned PVA event in 2019.
“Being a co-captain for them means the world to me because I love being out there every day with these guys,” said longtime tournament volunteer Danny Moffatt of Hughesville. “Being a part of this means the world to me and I wouldn’t miss it because of these guys. Being here with these guys is a year’s enjoyment for me. I love these guys.”
“It’s just my way to give back to the men and women that served our country and gave everything — their Father’s Days, their Christmases, their holidays — so I can live free,” said volunteer John Porter of Waldorf, who is an automotive electrician and a firefighter with the Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department. “To be frank, our country [has been bad] on our military for the last several years, so if we can do a little part to show our gratitude to the armed forces it’s the least we can do.”
Wearing a PVA cap and holding a cane painted as an American flag, Susie Lane of Ball Springs, Texas, sat in a folding chair and waited patiently for a bite.
The 64-year-old, who has several military family ties, has never finished below fourth in all six PVA tournaments she’s been in this year.
“They keep telling me I’m using witchcraft,” said Lane, who lost a large bass at the dock and settled for third place on Sunday.
A few hundred feet away, Christine Ledger was cranking them in seemingly one after the other. The Scottsburg, Ind., 2nd Class PO served in the U.S. Navy as a data processor from 1977-1980.
A polio survivor, Ledger has degenerative myelopathy and stenosis throughout her spine, which has forced her into a wheelchair.
“We didn’t expect this for our retirement,” Ledger said, referring to her wife of seven years, “Peep” Parrish.
Throughout the day, Parrish offered encouragement, removed algae, baited the hooks and netted the fish.
“She doesn’t leave my side and she’s there whenever I need her,” Ledger said. “She has been my everything.”
“I’m her service dog,” Parrish said with a laugh.
Ledger placed second in the bank fishing division while Hagerstown’s Michael Clauss, who was an assistant chaplain in Germany from 1989-1991, was third.
In the boaters division, Paul Julian and Chris Barber weighed in 17.72 pounds on Sunday to take top honors while Porter and Zach Whitlock placed second with 15.98 pounds.
“It’s amazing that people have this organization to get to because a lot of people that leave the military kind of get stuck in a position where they don’t have that support because they didn’t serve,” Whitlock, who lives in Greensboro, Tenn., and will soon retire after nine years as a truck driver for the U.S. Army, said of the PVA. “Knowing this great community is there on the outside, I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
While Sept. 11, 2001, was a significant event in American history, it was even more significant for Oliff, who chose that day to enlist at the age of 19.
“It scared me and then I found out what happened and my only reaction was, ‘I don’t want them to come on my land,’” said Oliff, who has a large military family, including a sister in the U.S. Marines. “I just knew I didn’t want my family to be hit or be hurt.”
Oliff was an MP for the U.S. Army and served two tours in Iraq where she sustained injuries in her military career. In 2015 she suffered a seizure and fell on a concrete garden gnome, breaking her back.
Oliff, who said she was a “very active person,” is now confined to a wheelchair but when asked if she had any regrets, said, “Hell no, I’d do it again in a minute, a second.”
“I would do it again because I know that I went over there and, yeah, I lost a lot of friends and they died because they were fighting for their country,” she said while wearing a silver bracelet bearing the names of some of the friends she has lost. “They’re not here today so I have to live my days as full of life as possible for them.”