PARIS, Tenn. — The top 12 anglers at this week's SpongeTech Tennessee Triumph included more than a few individuals who typically appear to have ice water running through their veins.
All-world superstar Kevin VanDam, whose steely glare and unflappable nature have led to over three million dollars in BASS winnings, finished second. Skeet Reese, whose occasional teary outbursts at emotional moments are greatly outnumbered by those times when he responds in a robotic monotone, finished fourth. Britt Myers (seventh) is always smiling, rain or shine, whether he catches them or not. Fred Roumbanis (12th) and Steve Kennedy (sixth) are similarly perpetually upbeat — tell them the sky is falling and they'll open their livewells to catch the silver lining.
Heck, Bobby Lane, who found the honey hole of a lifetime and won $100,000, was so low-key that he took naps during the competition days.
But mixed into that flat-lining bunch was Gerald Swindle, an angler whose lows are low and whose highs threaten to go into orbit. Onstage he's quick with a one-liner and a smile, but behind closed doors, he takes poor finishes hard. As a result, his failure to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic on the Red River this past February was tough. He hadn't missed a Classic since 2002 and the failure to earn a berth through the Elite Series was crushing. That makes this season's comeback-in-progress, punctuated by this week's ninth place finish, that much more uplifting.
Swindle admitted that the combination of a sub-standard 2008 Elite Series season and the death of his brother Tony led him to consult a "mind coach" over the winter. The result has been nothing short of phenomenal.
"Last year I was simply trying too hard," he said. "I only missed the money three times but those three tournaments were bombs. I was trying to force the moment instead of fishing the moment. I'd have a bad day and then I'd try to knock it out of the park and make it all up in one day. You can't do that."
No one has a better window into Swindle's psyche during the down times than his wife LeAnn. The bad tournaments weigh on them both equally, but in different ways.
"He's not mean. He's not ugly. He's not ill-tempered," she said. "It just breaks your heart so much. You want to help him win so much, but there's nothing you can say or do except be there for him when he wants to talk."
Typically, after a bad tournament she allows him a day "to get his feet under him," but then Swindle typically bounces back to his usual outgoing and occasionally outlandish personality without much prodding. That's by design. He and road roommate Jeff Reynolds have what amounts to a "Cinderella" rule — they allow each other to pout until the clock strikes midnight, but then it's back to work, no pity parties, no coddling, no excuses.
"We both understand that if you're doing badly, you keep your feelings to yourself," Reynolds said. "We tell each other 'You sucked today. Pick it up tomorrow.' You need somebody to kick you in the butt."
The nature of alpha dog competitors is to want to be the best at anything they try. So if a friend's butt-kicking doesn't provide enough incentive to get back on track, then the addition of internal competitiveness usually adds enough motivation from within to right a sinking ship.
"We're the hardest people on ourselves," Swindle said. "If I'm cutting grass, I want to outdo you. So when Jeff doesn't do well I tell him 'You had a horrible tournament. You sucked. But you're only allowed to suck until midnight.'"
There's also the matter of perspective: "In the scheme of things we just fish," Swindle opined. "It could be worse. We could be in Iraq dodging bullets."
Reynolds encouraged those fans who take issue with Swindle's occasional volatility to look beyond the baggy shorts, the witticisms and the blinged-out truck to appreciate what motivates him.
"People don't understand how passionate he is about the sport and how much he wants to improve it," Reynolds said.