Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay area anglers to seek fish, cancer cure at celebrity tournament

Dave Markett, a Tampa charter boat captain, and cancer survivor Billy Gowacki show off their recent catch.


Dave Markett, a Tampa charter boat captain, and cancer survivor Billy Gowacki show off their recent catch.


Billy Gowacki was happy to be on the water instead of in a hospital bed. "I don't get to fish much," the 17-year-old St. Petersburg High senior said. "I look forward to every minute I get to spend outside." Gowacki was 10 in September 2002 when his right leg started hurting. His parents rushed him to the hospital. "My life changed after that," he said. "That was the first of many visits to the hospital."

The Big C

It didn't take long for doctors to figure out what was wrong.

"I had a tumor," he said. "The technical term is Ewing's sarcoma."

This rare disease destroyed his femur. It meant long bouts of aggressive chemotherapy and the end to the life of running and jumping that most 10-year-old boys enjoy.

The chemo worked. The cancer died, and on Jan. 17, 2003, he had surgery to replace the damaged bone with a prostheses.

"It was hard," he said. "I spent a lot of time in the hospital."

Gowacki was recovering nicely when, about 10 months later, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome. Without a bone marrow transplant, he had less than a 10 percent chance to live six months.

"Luckily, after three days on the transplant registry, six matches were found; two of which were perfect," he said. "I got the transplant, and my body accepted it with little fuss."

Community support

Gowacki said family members helped keep his spirits up. He also met children in similar circumstances through the Tampa-based Pediatric Cancer Foundation. The not-for-profit raises money for research to battle many childhood cancers, including the one that nearly killed Gowacki.

Every year, the organization hosts a celebrity fishing tournament that draws dozens of pro athletes and other dignitaries who are paired with pro guides and regular folks to fish the waters of Tampa Bay. This weekend, Hall of Famer and ex-Ray Wade Boggs returns as host.

"It has been a challenge to keep this tournament going in these trying economic times," said Dave Markett, a Tampa charter boat captain who has donated his services for more than a decade. "But when you get a chance to fish with somebody like this young man (Gowacki), you realize just how important the mission is."

In its heyday, the tournament, started by former Rays general manager Chuck LaMar, drew hundreds of anglers. But in recent years, the tournament has lost several major sponsors.

Tampa attorney Steve Yerrid and pet food maker Purina picked up some of the slack, but the bay area's premier catch-and-release tournament is still struggling to cover expenses.

Fishing buddies

Markett spends nearly every day on the water guiding tourists and locals. But on a warm October afternoon, he canceled a charter just so he could spend a few hours fishing with Gowacki.

"When you see what the Pediatric Cancer Foundation does for young people like this gentleman, how can you say no?" Markett said. "We can all do our part to help make a difference."

Gowacki told Markett he did not care what they caught as long as it put up a good fight.

"This is great," Gowacki said again and again. "I hope we catch a shark."

Markett made no promises. But as if on cue, a young shark grabbed Gowacki's bait, and the fight was on. A few minutes later, the angler and his guide posed for a quick photo.

"Nobody will believe this," Gowacki said. "I can't wait to post this picture on Facebook."

Confident, cancer-free and glad to be alive, Gowacki said he hopes others will draw strength from his story.

"I am thankful for all I've got," he said. "I really am pretty lucky."

fast facts

Pediatric Cancer Foundation Grand Slam Celebrity Fishing Tournament

Today: Steve Yerrid Kids Fishing Derby and Fishermen's Ball at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort (tickets $75).

Fishing: Saturday and Sunday; sponsorship opportunities available; $2,500 buys two days of fishing with a guide for one person plus two tickets to the ball.

(813) 269-0955

Tampa Bay area anglers to seek fish, cancer cure at celebrity tournament 10/22/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2009 12:56am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Matt Baker's takeaways from Florida State-Louisville


    1. One of the many hard-to-believe stats about FSU's underperforming defense: DE Brian Burns led all freshmen nationally with 9 ½ sacks last year; his first one this season came midway through the second quarter Saturday.

    TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 21: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs the ball into the endzone for a touchdown during their game against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) 775042617
  2. Late fumble, field goal send Florida State to another loss


    TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher didn't have an explanation for the turning point in Saturday's 31-28 last-second loss to Louisville.

    Louisville's Lamar Jackson gets past Florida State's Matthew Thomas to score in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tallahassee Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) FLSC102
  3. Bucs-Bills: Tampa Bay's fatal habit of falling behind


    TAMPA — Okay, all you road scholars, why do the Bucs keep falling behind in games not played at Raymond James Stadium?

    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) recovers a fumble during the first half of an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
  4. Nicked-up Lightning vs. Penguins tonight



  5. What we've learned from the Bucs' and Bills' playoff droughts


    Is it possible for the Buccaneers and Bills to be any farther off the NFL's radar? You get the feeling schedule-makers didn't think twice about putting this one down for 1 p.m. Sunday — the let's-hope-no-one-notices time slot.

    [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]