Most people learn to respect water at an early age. And with so many activities based in water that provide us with enjoyment, it's easy to get lost in the impression that oceans, rivers, lakes, etc., are bastions of entertainment. But Nick Schuyler knows better.
Schuyler and three other buddies went out for a typical fishing trip on a typical day on Feb. 28, 2009. Only Schuyler survived.
The day started peaceful enough, but at about 2 p.m. while the quartet was looking for amberjack, the day turned sour and 38 miles out from Clearwater, Fla., their boat turned over, spilling four football players into frigid conditions.
None were wearing life jackets and none were properly prepared for danger of this magnitude. Like the others, Schuyler persevered by hanging onto the overturned 21-foot Everglades craft. Forty-six hours of clinging to a boat in unimaginable conditions allowed Schuyler to hang onto his life. The others weren't so lucky.
To put things in perspective, let's consider that these were athletes in prime condition who proved to be just as susceptible to unfavorable conditions as any other average Joe.
So, NFL players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith and Schuyler's fellow University of South Florida football alumnus William Bleakley tragically died in the water that day.
With the tragedy nearing its one-year anniversary, the organizers of this week's South Florida Super Celebrity Fishing Classic hope to spread the message of boating safety and responsibility with Schuyler serving as the guest of honor. A stout list of NFL luminaries will participate, including Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and current Miami Dolphins Ronnie Brown and Jason Taylor.
Rodney Barreto, chairman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, was the driving force behind the creation of the event.
"We just want to take a tragedy and be able to do something positive for the outdoors community," Barreto said. "These guys would be alive today if they prepared properly and they had a plan of action."
Barreto said some of the simplest things be aware of your surroundings, have proper communication devices and have a solid gamelan if trouble should strike are the most important. Boating safety education hits close to home for Floridians, Barreto said, as the Sunshine State boasts the most registered boats in the United States.
"With all the advancements in electronics, you would be crazy not to have the proper equipment," Barreto said.
At the event, Barreto said that the Coast Guard team who saved Schuyler will be honored and will also have an opportunity to re-unite with Schuyler. The proceeds from the event will be shared by the IGFA and divided up to the four family's charities of choice who were involved in the boating incident.
"I am grateful to the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for choosing to honor the memory of my friends," Schuyler said. "While nothing will bring Marquis, Corey or Will back, it is my hope that something positive can come from our tragic accident.
"To that end I implore anyone going out on the water to do so with the proper safety equipment, pay attention to weather forecasts, bring warmer clothing than you think you will need and follow all recommended boating safety procedures."
The one-day event is scheduled to kick off on Wednesday. Competitors will be fishing for dolphin, tuna, king and wahoo. Each team is allowed to bring in three fish per species (a 10-pound minimum will be required) and the winner will be awarded based on total aggregate weight.
For more information, visit southfloridasuperbowl.com/Celebrity_Fishing.