Lori Deaton didn't mind making the 45-minute run in her bay boat across choppy water. "Thanks for helping," she told me. "Now if only the fish will cooperate …" The tide was slack, and Deaton knew she had her work cut out for her. When the water is not moving the fish aren't biting. But on this picture-perfect September morning, the Apollo Beach charter captain was thinking about something a little more important than trout, redfish and snook. "For many women, it is a matter of life and death …" she began.
A survivor's story
Like many guys, I had never given much thought to breast cancer. It was one of those things that happens to somebody else, but not to me.
"That is how I was," said Debbie Thompson, a 44-year-old breast cancer survivor from Lutz and a friend of Deaton. "I really never thought about it."
Then in October 2005, Thompson was driving to work when she went by a pink building, and it reminded her that it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"I said to myself, you know, maybe I should go get screened," she said. The following month, she got a mammogram, and the prognosis was not good. "I couldn't believe it when they told me. … Thank God they discovered it early."
Thompson never felt a lump or noticed any other signs of illness. After a lumpectomy, several months of radiation treatments and hormone therapy, she got a clean bill of health.
"If it hadn't been for that hunch," she said. "I would never have gotten diagnosed."
Follow the heart
Deaton, 43, never had breast cancer. An avid runner and triathlete, she said she feels pretty good.
The Fort Lauderdale native grew up in a house full of boys, but none of them fished.
"It was just something I always wanted to do," she said. "I love being on the water. Why not try to make a living at it?"
Deaton broke into the local guiding business 10 years ago. Making a living as a fishing captain isn't easy. Just ask Dave Markette.
"It is a tough business," said Markette, one of the pioneers of the local flats fishing scene. "I knew it was going to be even tougher for a woman."
Markette took Deaton under his wing and helped her learn that it wasn't fishing but catching that counted.
"The learning curve was pretty steep," she said. "But I think I have got it figured out."
Komen for the Cure
Fast forward to 2007, Deaton's business was doing well, and she thought it was about time to give something back to the community.
Quite serendipitously, she heard about the local affiliate for a national breast cancer organization. In 1982, a woman named Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever.
Today, Komen for the Cure is the world's largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists, raising more than $1-billion to fight the deadly disease.
"They had walks and runs, but why not a fishing tournament?" Deaton said.
Over the years, Deaton had fished her share of tournaments, but she wasn't quite sure how to run one. So she started calling friends in the fishing community.
"The response was phenomenal," she said. With the help of her sister, Mary Ostien, vice president on the board for the Florida Suncoast affiliate of Komen for the Cure, things started moving forward.
Reel men wear pink
Deaton envisioned a fundraiser similar to the highly successful Mercury Marine Celebrity Inshore Grand Slam Tournament started by former Rays general manager Chuck Lamar more than a decade ago. That tournament, held each November at the Vinoy, has raised more than $1-million for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
Deaton knew it would be a gamble to see if the mostly male tournament fishing public would support an event that benefits breast cancer research and treatment.
"Everybody knows somebody — a wife, sister or family friend — that has battled breast cancer," she said. "Do you think it will work?"
As we sat and waited for the tide to turn, I put on my thinking cap.
"You have to make it a challenge," I said. "You need a catchy slogan … How about 'Reel men wear pink.' "
Deaton liked the idea. As she dropped me off at the dock, she apologized for the slow fishing day.
"That's okay," I said. "Sometimes there are things that are more important than trout, redfish and snook."