The smell in the air is almost sweet, the roar of the waves like rolling thunder, the energy can be felt through the wooden boards the instant you set foot on the pier. As you look around and get your bearings, the excitement begins to build for the day of fishing that lies ahead.
But what if your vision was impaired? Or it was taken out of the equation all together and you had to rely on your other senses? The thought of trying to approach the beach, let alone a fishing pier or boat quickly becomes daunting to say the least. Sight may seem second nature for many but it is also a gift that is easily taken for granted on a day to day basis.
Thanks to the effort of our local Lions Clubs (First Flight, Nags Head, Manteo, Wanchese, Columbia, Currituck, Lower Currituck and Plymouth) the annual NC VIP Fishing Tournament gives visually impaired and blind individuals a chance to experience part of what makes Eastern North Carolina so special.
“The event is celebrating its 37th year,” says Executive Director Gwen White. And every year the event experiences more growth. “This event will touch close to 1,000 people, including volunteers and 375 are blind or visually impaired,” Gwen shares.
The inspiration for the event started about as close to home as one could wish for. “It all started with Joe Justice,” White says. “As the old owner of Nags Head Pier and a Lions member himself, he suggested we have an event right there at the Pier.”
And so, it all began with 12 individuals and a half day fishing. Now, decades later, the event spans multiple days with an array of activities and is believed to be the largest event of its kind in the world.
On Monday, Oct. 21, VIPs begin to arrive and check in to their hotels. On Tuesday ,the fun really starts to kick off and continues through Wednesday.
“Fishing is spread out between Nags Head, Jennette’s, Avalon and Kitty Hawks piers along with two head boats, the Crystal Dawn and Miss Oregon Inlet,” White says. “We have a Nort Carolina tournament on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, we have the National tournament with competitors from all over the U.S., and even Canada.”
It’s much more than fishing. The Lions along with the volunteers see to it that participants are able to enjoy good music, delicious food, community fellowship and learn independent living skills. There is even an Easter egg hunt where eggs are outfitted with beeping devices so that they may be located.
“The excitement you experience during this event is infectious and magnetic,” she says. “For the VIPs this is not only a vacation but an opportunity to know how special you are.”
From all over the state, nurses, volunteers, and social workers donate their time and energy to see to it that each and every person goes home with a full heart and a smile on their face.
“We truly could not pull this off without everyone being so generous. Between the hotels, restaurants, piers, and boats, it is awesome that we are able to provide this service.”
From the set up to the break down, between cutting bait and cooking on refrigerated trucks, it is evident that this community sets no limits when it comes to giving back. As much as the participants feel the love so do the volunteers.
“It is such a blessing to get the opportunity to walk next to those we serve,” White says. “It is oh, so awesome.”