Whenever a child has to stop his life because of sickness, it marks a place in time that will never be forgotten. Life has no guarantees and sometimes we have to say our goodbyes far too early. But as a wish granter, I have learned that it can be a day when many miracles also begin. Fishing miracles given to us by these very special children and God. On a hot July day in 2011, I had the honor of fishing with a young boy, a true inspirational hero to anyone that came across his path. His name is Logan Watts, an eight year old who was suffering from a rare bone cancer. Logan told me he wanted to be alive so he could fish. Children like Logan have taught me to measure time on this earth in moments, not in days, weeks, months, or years. So I share this fishing moment in time with you, thanks to Logan and his loving family.
You see, the world just doesn’t get it. The true meaning of love and life isn't witnessed in shopping malls, hotel ballrooms, luxurious halls, or press-filled convention centers. It isn't in a movie theater, a ball park, a rock concert, YouTube video, or on Facebook, the internet, or any other place that most Americans think they would find it. Moments like this aren't replayed on big screens across the country. They live only in the minds of those who were there to understand and witness it. The moments are incredibly surreal, forging a feeling inside so deep they could live on in spirit for a thousand years. They change everything in your life. Moments like a mother and grandfather hugging a child on the biggest day of his life, which for him is simply living to the next day. Getting to share those feelings and seeing these moments are gifts that live with those of us that were there. They prove that life itself is a gift and love is its substance.
Logan's dream was to fish in Florida. But not just for any fish, he wanted to catch a shark. And he wanted to share his dream with the one person who had sat by his side and held his hand every day he’d spent in a hospital bed, thinking and wondering if tomorrow would ever come. That person was his grandfather, Ralph. Logan had a team of doctors and nurses who helped him build up his strength, spirit, and health so he was strong enough to get to that one glorious day. When I received the phone call to meet Logan and his family he came with Oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, and medications – Logan was here with all of it and ready for me to make his dream a reality. He was accompanied by the people he loved most–his mother Lonna, grandpa Ralph, grandma Pamela, brother Ethan, and sisters Sarah and Lyric.
On the first day of his wish, the seas were nasty and unsafe, but thanks to an angel named Gina Russo from the FWC, Logan and his family not only had an educational tour of the state hatchery in Port Manatee, but Logan got to fish there. Gina has reached out every time I needed help with a hurt or sick child. I also summoned my two friends, G-man and David T, to assist me and the family while fishing at the hatchery. As fishing goes, it was a great day for Logan's entire family. They caught over 60 fish–Redfish, Black Drum, Speckled Trout, and Snook. We had a barbeque and told stories, then fished some more. Logan caught some fish, but began to feel ill during the day and had to stop to lie down and get some oxygen. The day was called early and I wasn't sure if Logan was going to the hospital. I left the hatchery in a saddened state, wondering if Logan would be physically and medically up to fishing on the boat in the Gulf of Mexico the next day.
That night, Logan's mother, Lonna, kept me apprised of her Logan's condition. The only time I ask God for favors is for other people who need his help or for sick or injured children who need a greater power to intervene. So I prayed. “Dear God, I know I don't talk to you much, but when I do it's for a miracle for someone that needs your strength to pull through. He’s only a child, please take away his sickness, give him just one day without this disease, pain, worry, fear, or sadness.”
Lonna called me late that night to tell me Logan had been given some medication and since the doctors felt it might be his last chance, they gave him the go ahead for the next day’s fishing. At 1 am, I looked at the weather and it was bad. At 4 am with boat in tow, I headed out to catch bait with my saintly friend G-man. Having G-man with me was my safety net. He always says and does the right things to make life better for those around him, because who in their right mind would want to brave dangerous seas and storms in the dark on their only day off to make a sick little boy's dream come true. There’s an award named after G-man, called the G-man Award. The G stands for Giving Man. I only know of one person who has won the award, It is earned by a person who shows compassionate actions under all circumstances, including when no one is looking or paying attention to the most important things in life.
Catching bait in four-foot seas in the dark during a storm is neither fun nor easy, but with G-man at my side and Logan's heart guiding me through the dark, we got it done. I headed back to the dock to wait for Logan and his grandfather Ralph. It seemed like a long ride as I pondered the uncertainties of life, not knowing if Logan’s sickness and the bad weather would derail his one simple wish. While waiting I couldn’t help feeling hopeless, certain that a little boy’s dream and wish might be over. Thinking at times we had reached the end. I had done my best, but maybe my best wasn't good enough. It made me feel Logan was getting cheated out of his dream, his wish and his life. It was cruel and unfair, and as I waited for Logan, I talked to God one more time.
Logan arrived at 7 am, smiling and carrying a gutsiness ready to take on shark and sea. Both G-man and I couldn’t help but admire the Logan's courage. Logan's rule number one, never give up. Ever! Under any circumstances. He not only made it to the dock, but arrived with an attitude of, let’s take it up a notch. I was in awe.
His little heart carried us off into the dawn hours and up the river to wait out the storms and violent seas. Knowing there were no sharks in the river, G-man and I pooled our prayers, hoping the sea would settle down and the storms would cease. I kept looking at the radar and poking the bow of my boat out of the river, but it was still way too rough. We needed a miracle and Logan made us believe we would get one.
Instinct kept me looking behind and over my shoulder. At first I thought it was my fear of the weather and the whole situation, keeping an eye on the lightning and thunder clouds. Then there it was, way beyond the distant clouds. A rainbow. I glanced at my radar and saw there was a window, a clearing of maybe an hour or, if lucky, two. I pointed to the radar screen then the rainbow and asked G-man, “Do you believe in miracles?” I was certain I could feel God with us. After all, isn't faith believing all power can’t be seen? He had answered our prayers and, along with Logan's determination and resilience, it just might pay off. I gave God my sincerest thanks, cherishing all he gave us in faith and hope. G-man and I ran full throttle, holding dear this moment and promising God that we would be better humans in the future for his powerful intervention. My heart was racing. I felt like we were in the World Series, it was the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, winning run on third base, two outs, two strikes and one pitch away from either elimination or the greatest moment in fishing miracles. But now it was up to us to bring home the winning run. We were up. I was scared, afraid and worried, not just for Logan, but for myself. This was his moment and we had to find sharks and fast.
The rainbow was my guide and we were going to chase it no matter where it lead us. I headed toward it and when I thought it was time, stopped, anchored, and began to chum. All my high tech electronics and years of fishing experience to find sharks went out the window. I relied on chasing a rainbow and faith. I called on Him and He answered. He was the only one who could get it right. The sea was calm, the skies cleared, and within seven minutes of chumming, G-man whispers in my ear, “Look port, starboard, stern, anywhere. There are sharks all around the boat. Hundreds.”
G-man baited up the rods, and as fast as the bait hit the water, a shark grabbed it and it was off to the races. Logan picked up the rod, his little body shaking, and got yanked hard across the deck. Luckily G-man was holding him by his pants. I sat up in my tower and watched Logan, his face lit up as he yelled to Grandpa Ralph, “I got a big shark, I got a big shark!”
I was glad I had my sunglasses on even though there was no sun, because tears began to run freely down my face. It was a bittersweet moment, and though I have felt it before with many children, it never gets old. This is how life should be lived by all. G-man, as always with a stern face, looked up at the tower, nodded as to tease me for crying, and called me Nancy.
G-man is a big, tough man, and though he pokes fun at my sensitive side, he gets it. I jumped down from the tower and hugged and high-fived him. Logan caught twelve more sharks until the storms closed back in on us. Heading home, there was silence and a sense. It was the sound and feeling of peace. It's the kind of peace in life that can't be bought.
I left Logan that day with something that had bonded us together no matter where life took him or I. The hardest part for me is watching the children leave. I feel helpless, wondering if the future will give them a chance. I always feel like I should do more, and though the feeling hurts, I hope it never goes away. The families of the children always keep in touch with me at first, but as time goes by, the world gets in the way. Many of the endings are sad and painful. The letters, the phone calls, and the emails from the families keep me moving forward.
On Tuesday, August 30th, 2011, I received the following email from Lonna.
Hi Capt. David:
Just wanted to email you and thank you for everything you and your colleagues did for Logan last week. We appreciate so much what you did for him in making his wish come true. Logan has not stopped talking about you and the sharks he caught and all the stuff he learned during his time with you. He definitely wants to do a lot more fishing now.
It’s people like you that truly make a difference in the world. Not only did you grant Logan's wish, but what an amazing example of being loving and giving you showed to all four of my kids. I just can't thank you enough. Thanks also for sharing some of your embarrassing and memorable stories :-) I would like to get a picture from the fishing trip enlarged and framed for Logan. If you get a chance, could you please email me some of the pics you have of Logan with the sharks? I will also email you the pics that I have as soon as I get them put on the computer.
I was hoping to post something on your website about what you did for Logan, but I didn't really see a section of testimonials or feedback. I know you’re a humble guy, but it might be cool to have a section for people to post feedback of their exciting experiences on your charters. Maybe you already have this and I missed it.
Thanks again. I will be in touch and let you know how things are going.
There were a few more emails and, as with most of the hundreds of Make-A-Wish children I meet, reality hits. It’s the worst feeling that takes a part of me away.
It was a Tuesday night. July 9th, 2013 at 11:22pm. There was an email from Lonna sitting in my mailbox. It had been two years. I never forget any of them.
Like always, I was afraid and terrified open it. It took me two days to build up the courage to click on it. I prayed as I thought back to that day. I’ll never forget the sound of Logan's innocent voice and laughter.
Hi Capt. Dave:
Hope this email finds you doing great. Logan has been talking about you lately and I thought I should send a hello.
Since the Make A Wish trip, Logan has been doing really well. He is CANCER FREE from what all the tests can tell. He has had some surgeries and is healing well and getting more and more active. He definitely has beat and exceeded all the odds.
Since the trip with you in Florida, Logan's love for fishing has just continued to grow. He fishes somewhere almost every day and usually catches the biggest fish. He loves to fish at a local dam for catfish and we even had to make him take a week off because he was having back pain from pulling the big fish up. He truly just loves it.
We are hoping he will be getting back to school in the fall. He has been doing some charity work and has even given a couple speeches at charity events. I am attaching a few pictures.
Just wanted to say hi and we think of you often and the amazing memories from the trip are with us every day.
All the best,
Logan now travels the world letting other sick children know how fishing saved his life. He has given so many people the hope, courage, and faith to believe that they, too, can defy the odds. He has no idea how he and all the other children have changed my life. These are the finest hours of my life. This is what I believe fishing is all about.
Logan is one of many children that have touched my life. I’ll never forget any of them. They move and inspire me to be a better human being. For me, it’s the greatest thrill life has to offer. When I think about when I felt most alive as a human being, it will always be reaching out and helping someone I love or an injured or sick child.
When I told Logan I was a police officer, he said “police officers never stop eating doughnuts”. I told him that we eat them because God lets us have them free forever. So therein lies the title of this tale.
I dedicate this story to my mother and father, hoping that they understand how proud I am to be their son. They gave me many gifts, one of which was my faith. It was their sacrifices, other life’s gifts, and their actions that inspired me to live the most unsullied life I could. I hold them in my heart where ever I go. They taught me the greatest cultural achievement a person can obtain is doing something noble and compassionate for someone else in a time of need. Nothing in the world can be better than that.
By Captain David Rieumont