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April 09, 2013

Facing My Fears

I want to catch and release a sailfish or blue marlin 100-percent solo on my new 26-foot Andros Boatworks panga.

Well, well, well — I just came back from a ­conference with eight doctors, and it appears that I will be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, paralyzed from my chest down. Cancer doctors said I would be dead three-and-a-half years ago, but my latest blood test showed that after two years of extensive chemotherapy, I’m cancer-free. Without belief in our Savior, my wife, Anni, and my fans, I don’t believe I could’ve gone the distance.

I’ve done 22 shows for The Best and Worst of Tred Barta on the NBC Sports Network since my spinal infarction, striving to inspire those in need with the simple message of never giving up and doing the most with what God has given you.

It took me a year before I could dress myself, and another six months to shower — but now I wake up, take a shower, get dressed, get in my truck and drive to the tackle shop myself. I can rig a ballyhoo and sew up a Spanish mackerel as well as anyone. Yet I still face my greatest fear, which, hopefully, will result in my greatest triumph.

I just purchased a 26-foot Andros Boatworks panga. They call it the Tarpon Model. I’ll name it Makaira. This family-owned company took the time to listen to Anni and me, and signed on to my dream. I want to leave Palm Beach Inlet after catching my own bait, and catch and release a ­sailfish or blue marlin 100-percent solo — only me and my wheelchair aboard.

Sounds easy, at least to me, but it’ll push my limitations. I often fall out of my wheelchair and can’t get up. And there’s generally not enough room to get around in a normal center-console.

But the team at Andros spent days on the CAD (computer-aided design), designing a front step-up deck area that extends out, 360-degree railings, hydraulically operated outriggers, a T-top with only two stanchions, and steering stations that lower hydraulically and then swing upward, allowing me 360-degree access to the entire deck.

By the time this is published, the Miami Boat Show will be over and Evinrude will have brought to market its new toggle steering system. I plan to put four toggle controls around Makaira, so I can have full maneuverability of the boat while fighting a fish.

Of course, I must wear a bandolero-style strap when fighting a fish. It keeps my shoulders back so I don’t collapse at the waist. Anni is trying to design a quick-release model, because if I go into the water strapped to my chair, I could easily die. I don’t want to die like that — although, on second thought, it is very John Wayne.

The only things that Andros Boatworks doesn’t offer are canvas and cushions — but everything else is on the table, customizable and built on site. The color of my boat will even be Awlgrip San Mateo Wheat with teak topsides. Hey, everyone: Makaira lives again, and a line of special-needs boats will now be available for the world!

I don’t like saying this, but I am scared. Still, I need to do this, to keep moving forward, taking risks and practicing what I preach. Someday, somewhere, I will hook that billfish by myself, and I will dedicate it to one of the greatest men our sport ever knew, Capt. Charlie “Split Tail” Hayden.

It’s my desire that friends escort me to the grounds so they can say they witnessed a seemingly impossible event. I truly love this sport, I truly love the people in it, and I hope my efforts inspire those who spend time on blue water.

So I face my fears, with the belief that you can never really win if you aren’t willing to lose — even if it’s your life.

Till next tide,

Capt. Tred Barta

For all things Tred, go to tredbarta.com.