MOULTONBOROUGH - Three dozen bass fishermen, many of them disabled or paralyzed veterans, competed for bragging rights during the daylong 14th annual New England paralyzed Veteran and Disabled Bass Fishing Tournament held Saturday at Camp Robindel on Lake Winnipesaukee.
Tournament director "Tiny" LaFontaine said participation was up this year, with 36 participants taken out on 21 motorboats to fish. Each fisherman was allowed to bring in his or her five heaviest fish. Winners and prizes will be announced later.
Among those fishing were Phil Paquette of Dracut, Mass., the only participant who owns his own boat - "The Wings of an Eagle," a 20-footer - and his buddy Tom Blanchard of Billerica, Mass. Paquette lost the use of his legs serving in the U.S. Navy during Operation Desert Shield in Iraq; Blanchard, a U.S. Army veteran, served in Vietnam and the Middle East. He lost a leg, but not his talent for fishing.
"I've been doing this since 1999," said Blanchard, a member of the event co-sponsor, American Eagle Bass Association. The weather was pleasant and the lake fairly calm during the day. "We lucked out with the weather," Paquette said, adding that he wasn't really in it for the prizes, but for the "bragging rights."
Paquette and Blanchard were out on the boat early and had caught their limit by 9 a.m. The men have participated in the tournament for many years and see it as a great opportunity to socialize with fellow veterans and enjoy the lake. Paquette initially became involved after he was treated at the Veterans Administration spinal cord treatment center in West Roxbury, Mass., seven years ago.
Mike Guibault, the assistant sports and recreation director of the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America organization, said he visits with newly disabled veterans and works to get them involved in not only fishing tournaments, but also other sports and recreational events.
Jim Wallack, an executive board member of the NEPVA, said the message is that disabled or paralyzed veterans can be part of the non-disabled community and participate in sports or events with some support.
The weekend began on Friday with registration and socializing; campers stayed free of charge at the lakeside camp cottages as the guests of camp owner Nat Greenburg. Dinner and an awards ceremony were set to be held on Saturday night.
Highlights of the day included a silent auction and raffles, made possible through donations from area merchants. Participation was free to disabled firstname.lastname@example.org