After delays, overbooked flights, and no connections available to Key West Ben’s family arrived to their temporary home in Summerland Key, are were greeted by a plethora of gear from Yeti, Shimano, Under Armour, and Costa. Two days of fishing with Captain Ryao Logan, and a shark tour with Kenny Harris were on Ben’s itinerary, however rough seas were a common theme that followed Jose on his adventures, and seem to continue through the Foundation.
Ryon called me the day before Ben’s first day of fishing. “If this was a normal charter I would have canceled. I want to make sure his first experience on the water is a positive one. “ Ryon called Ben’s family to explain the situation, and they all agreed that fishing the first day was a no go. Instead I met up with them and set them up with all the necessary gear they would need for some bridge fishing.
Ben is five years old, and has been receiving treatment for a brain tumor for the last year. When I was planning his wish he said that he wanted to catch a Swordfish, or a Marlin. He seemed a little bummed when I told him that we had to stay close to shore, and those fish were in very deep water, and very faraway. Ryon promised him that he would catch more fish instead of the one “monster” he was hoping for.
We moved around to a couple different spots off of Key West, and finally found our honey hole stacked with Yellowtail, Mutton, and Mangrove Snapper, Black Grouper, Porgies, and a bunch of Grunts. The first half dozen fish were all Grunts. “I’m the Grunt Master, and I’m on fire!” His father, and grandfathers would hook up a fish and pass the rod off to Ben. He would reel them in as fast as possible, while watching his dad or grandpas hook up on another. As soon as he would swing the fish into the boat he would run over to the next rod, and reel in that fish. Back and forth he went. We had to remind him to pay attention to the fish that he was reeling in, and not to the one that was at the end of the line of another rod. With almost every fish getting bigger and bigger he would say “Wow that’s a monster!”
As we were wrapping up the day his dad was unhooking a little Mutton. He lost his grip, and dropped it on the boat. The fish flopped around, and Ben started screaming. The spines on the fins had pricked him. We got him up on the seat to take a closer look. It was nothing major. We cleaned it up, and put some ice on it while he continued to wail. “I don’t want to catch anymore fish!” His father shook his head, and said “I am in so much trouble.”
Before we started on our way back in we were trying to get Ben to calm down (big props to Ryon, he did an excellent job with that.) I had my camera out, and his dad quietly said to take a picture. I raised my camera, and in between screams Ben looked at me smiled for the camera, and then back to crying. Once we were back to the dock Ben ran around showing everyone his battle wound. All of us were incredibly relieved; the last thing we wanted was his wish to be a negative experience.
Next on the agenda was a eco tour with Kenny Harris from Key West Extreme Adventures. Kenny and my dad fished together for years, and I have known his family my entire life, so luckily for Ben he received VIP treatment. He got a front row seat while Kenny’s son Clay held the rope with fish attached to it for the sharks. After the majority of the fish was gone Clay would untie the tail, and pass it off to Ben to throw in himself. He sure got a kick out of that.
As Flip Pallot would say we had our “Goodbye for Now” dinner at the Square Grouper. Since his chemo, and various medications Ben became more of a picky eater. Obviously the chemo affected is appetite, but some of the medications affected his taste. He was far more excited about being able to color on the table than his food. However his parents and myself enjoyed every bite, how can you not, it’s the Grouper! While Ben was busy making whipped cream mustaches on his face from the Key Lime pie his parents ordered, he looked towards a picture that hangs at the bar, and said “Wow now that’s a monster!” “Do you know who that is?” I asked. He shook his head. “That’s my dad. He is why I get to hang out with you guys.” “Wow! That’s awesome! Did he really catch that fish?” “He sure did.” Ben smiled and said, “He must have been really good.”
We walked out to the parking lot, and exchanged hugs. Ben gave me a little pat. I said to him “My dad was a really good fisherman, but you know what else he was good at….Hugs.” Ben squeezed tighter and tighter until I said “Now that’s how you give a good hug!” Ben is one of the coolest little dudes I have ever met. He is full of positivity, his smile his infectious, and his innocence reminded me not to take everything so seriously. I know my dad was laughing along with us the whole time.