It may have been cold and foggy early Saturday, April 22, but that didn’t stop participants from gathering for the annual Bluegrass Bass Bash on Lake Barkley. This was the fourth stop in the Paralyzed Veterans of America bass tournament series.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to get veterans and people with disabilities in the community out fishing and help them,” explained Jennifer Purcer, senior associate director of sports and recreation for the PVA.

“It’s a rehabilitation for us, too,” she continued, “so it helps them continue to live healthy, productive lifestyles, but it also gets to show them that they can come out in the outdoors and fish and do everything they could before injuries, after injuries and also have a great support system.”

For many, these tournaments are also an opportunity to connect with friends who have grown into a support system over the years.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Purcer. “We’ve been doing this over 20 years now, we’re almost hitting 30 years at this point, and so we have some anglers who’ve been with us for almost that amount of time, and some tournament directors, and so when we see some of our newer anglers come in and boat captains, it’s like a family.”

It was clear that many of the participants knew each other, laughing and joking and calling each other by name. But another form of connection comes from veteran biker groups that volunteer each year.

Most veterans who participate are unable to walk by themselves, and many are unable to stand. But, this isn’t a problem for the bikers. Together, they group around each veteran and lift them from their wheelchair up and into the boat, which is usually sitting at around the bikers’ shoulders. They make sure the veteran is secure, then store their wheelchairs under a covered awning for later.

There are two competition options for anglers, open and bank. Bank fishing allows those who don’t feel comfortable or would simply prefer to stay on land the option to compete from the bank. In the open division, disabled veterans are paired with able-bodied fishermen in a boat. The first day of the tournament, the partner is only allowed to advise. However, the second day, the two compete together for a cash prize.

Still, it doesn’t really seem to be about the competition for anyone. Purcer may have said it best, calling herself “the lucky one” for getting to oversee the event.

“And something like this, where you’re in this community and they build a beautiful marina and a dock that’s accessible,” she finished, “I mean, we’re only helping a lot of people be able to realize that they can get out here and fish and be with other people.”