Xavier Magazine

The Fisherman

The first time Bill Reichert organized a fishing event for disabled people, he almost gave up.

“We picked the hottest day of the year,” he says. Fewer than 20 people attended, the fishing was lousy and the sandwiches he packed for lunch all melted in the heat.

A retired math teacher and 1970 MEd graduate, Reichert organized the day with a friend who had gone to Wisconsin for an event put on by a group Fishing Has No Boundaries. The group didn’t have a Cincinnati chapter yet, and by the end of the day, Reichert knew why. It was hard work.

But Reichert, who grew up fishing before school, didn’t want the sport denied to anyone. So he agreed to organize another event next year. And the year after that.

Seventeen years later, his progress can be measured in buckets of bait. He now gets 1,000 night crawlers, 20 pounds of minnows and 50 containers of wax worms donated. Volunteers rig up 180 rods and reels, many installed with adaptive technologies for people with limited mobility. The two-day event, held each spring, draws 150 participants, 125 caretakers, 70 volunteers and 45 boats. Meals are catered and musicians entertain the crowd alongside clowns, puppets and, one year, a pet wallaby.

“We try to do something different every year,” Reichert says. Meanwhile, participants cast for bluegill, bass and crappies from shore, while boats take others out on the water.

The event takes Reichert months to prepare, but it has its rewards. Of hundreds of participants, a few stand out. One was a recently married man in his 20s who fell from his porch and broke his neck. Paralyzed from the chin down, he was deeply depressed. He couldn’t fish, but Reichert wheeled him onto a pontoon boat for a ride around the lake. “All you could see was his eyes move,” Reichert says. And then the remarkable happened. The man broke into a wide smile—his first since the accident.

Another year, Reichert was walking the shore in a rare moment of calm. A man in a boat called out across the waves. “What’s going on?” he asked. Reichert explained, and the man offered to take some people aboard his boat. He moored it, and followed Reichert to the lunch tent.

Inside, he stopped dead.

“That’s—that’s my brother,” he said, pointing. “He was institutionalized. I haven’t seen him for 20 years.”

The brothers spent the rest of the day together. What design of destiny reunited them, Reichert doesn’t know. “That’s the stuff that keeps me going,” he says. “We do it for the smiles.”