On April 6, 2016 the Bolt family’s lives changed forever. They learned that their son, Darrell, had a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) brain tumor, which is found in a part of the brain stem called the pons. The pons controls essential bodily functions such as heartbeat, breathing, swallowing, eye movement, eyesight and balance. Since doctors were guessing on timelines, the parents, Amanda and Jamey, decided not to share what was not certain and keep Darrell’s spirit high and positive.
I was contacted by the Outdoor Dream Foundation about hosting a trip for the Bolt family. It felt like a perfect fit. As we started to coordinate the details, I received some exciting news. The day before Darrell and his family arrived I found out I was pregnant. My husband Dave and I tried to keep the word from getting out, but since we live in such a small town, that lasted all of three days.
The Bolt family drove from their home of Townville, South Carolina. Darrell had never flown before and didn’t feel the need to try now. I told them the landing at the Key West airport can be a little rough since the runway is so short, pilots have to slam on the brakes.
They arrived late at night on Saturday. I walked over and showed them around the house next to us where they would stay for their visit. We would meet up in the AM to discuss plans. I left this trip pretty open just because the weather is SO hot and exhausting during this time of year. They went out for two half days offshore with Chris Mendola, which proved to be taxing. The first day they went I could not drag myself out of bed (not at 7am, at least). Darrell and Amanda headed to the yacht club for a few hours. Darrell got the big amberjack he wanted and a bunch of yellowtail. No wind, and hot humid air made for a quick day of fishing.
The nice thing about them being right next door is we could drop the flats boat in the water, leave it at our dock and have Darrell walk over, jump in and head out for a few hours. Throughout Darrell’s trip this is what we did since the second day of fishing was all but rained out. The weather would clear and my husband Dave would pick Darrell up. Over the course of Darrell’s trip he caught four of the five fish he wanted to catch: snapper, AJ, tarpon and shark, but no marlin.
We took a day trip up to Marathon where Darrell got to experience the different attractions at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters. There, we got to observe the training they are doing with sharks. Each shark has an individual symbol. Each shark learns that symbol and is trained to touch the symbol wherever it is placed in its tank. This technique aids in all kinds of research projects and husbandry.
Darrell also got to touch stingrays which are unique in the way they feel and move … I highly suggest it if you’ve never touched one. The aquarium also has an area where you can dig around and find shells, fossilized coral and shark teeth. Darrell was blown away by the shark teeth. Next came DRC.
Dolphin Research Center … my home away from home. I always find it amusing that some adult men don’t think much of touching a dolphin or asking for behaviors. But, when Darrell’s dad Jamey got on the dock, he was all smiles. The family got to witness the creativity and unique behavior of each individual dolphin, specifically their artistic ability. DRC has a program where the dolphins can paint a shirt for you. Like most things at DRC, the dolphins are the ones who give us humans the ideas. Over 20-plus years ago, a trainer saw one of the dolphins holding a red mangrove pod in his mouth. The staff thought if they can hold that in their mouth maybe they could do the same with a paintbrush? Darrell and his sister got to experience the final product of that once observed behavior in the paint-with-a-dolphin program.
At dinner our final night, we were talking about our heroes. Darrell said to me “Now Krissy please don’t be offended, but I’m more of a freshwater guy than saltwater. Growing up I’ve always followed Kevin VanDam and he is my absolute favorite.” His parents explained that they had tried to reach out to him, but could never find a direct line of communication to him. I had told them that I had met Kevin a few times and maybe we could get him to send Darrell an autograph. His whole face lit up “Really! You know Kevin VanDam??!!” and in the cutest southern accent you’ve ever heard.
We said our goodbyes early that morning. They had a long drive ahead of them. During their trip, I got to talk to Amanda (mom) a lot about being pregnant. It was great to have a younger mom, since it was still fresh in her memory of what it was like to be pregnant. I appreciated their understanding when I wasn’t able to make certain fishing days.
About a month after their trip, I got an alert on my phone about a shooting in Townville, SC. I called the family, and got no answer. Sent them a text. It was their daughter Kayla’s school. She was not hurt. Others weren’t as lucky.
That week, the family had also gotten the results from Darrell’s MRI and it was not what they were hoping for. Sometimes you don’t know what to do when tragedy strikes, but I remembered I had promised Darrell that I would try and get him his autograph from Kevin VanDam. I reached out to dear friends of my father’s, fishing legend Flip Pallot, and Dave Pfeiffer of Shimano. Both got me his contact info at almost the exact same time. It is always humbling what two of the most prominent men in the fishing industry will do at the drop of a dime because of my dad. I called Kevin and explained to him the situation. Kevin said he would be happy to give him a call. Selfishly I asked him if I could be in on the conference call? I wanted to hear Darrell’s reaction.
I called Amanda and she put Darrell on the phone. I merged the calls together but Kevin kept silent at first. “Darrell remember how I told you I knew Kevin VanDam?” “Yes ma’am,” in that adorable southern accent. “Well Kevin meet Darrell, Darrell meet Kevin.” Kevin said hello and introduced himself. All Darrell could say at first was “Uhhh is this really Kevin VanDam? THE Kevin VanDam?!” It was a priceless moment that I am grateful to have shared. Kevin and Darrell spoke for a while about what kind of fish Darrell fishes for and Kevin shared some tips with him. After we got off the phone I thanked Kevin and he said he would send Darrell some of his lures. Two days later, they received his gear. Amanda sent me a text thanking me, “This is really what we needed after this week.”
Amanda later shared her thoughts with me:
“With the help of The Outdoor Dream Foundation, Spanish Fly Foundation, Make a Wish and the kindness of his doctors, we have done everything Darrell wanted to do. We have been blessed by all the people that have stepped up and made this the best time of his life. Our community has stepped up and been so great to us. They told us we are not alone in this fight Thank you to the sponsors of the Jose Wejebe Spanish Fly Foundation for making it possible for Darrell to be able to go offshore fishing.”