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A Heroic Return to the Water: Rushton Battles Back from Cancer
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A Heroic Return to the Water: Rushton Battles Back from Cancer
By Richard Simms

Sharon Rushton has a very special reason to look forward to the last regular-season Women's Bassmaster Tour event that begins today on Old Hickory Lake near Nashville.

In fact, Sharon has a very special reason to look forward to every day of her life. She has whipped Stage 3 ovarian cancer into submission, and will return to the water as a professional angler for the first time in a year.

A few decades ago, in my previous life with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Sharon was a great friend and mentor. She is still both, albeit from afar.

Her career has always revolved around conservation, the outdoors and fishing ... serving many years as the Executive Director of the Future Fisherman Foundation. In 2005 I was excited when Sharon joined the ranks of the WBT, which meant I had a good friend to follow, living my life vicariously through her exploits on the professional bass circuit. My fishing hero fulfilled my dreams well with five Top 10 finishes, including one big win.

Selfishly, it was a horrible blow to me and all her many friends when we learned that this year, Sharon was sidelined by ovarian cancer.

For those who may not know, the prognosis at Stage 3 can be grim. I feared her professional fishing career was over, knowing full well that Sharon's greatest battle was now a matter of life and death, much less a return to the water.

"Oh my God," she said this week. "I feel so fortunate to be alive. Stage 3 ovarian cancer is pretty bad. I'm so fortunate to have responded to chemo."

And hence, return to the water she will.

Today she will be among the women plying the waters of Old Hickory for a WBT title. But Sharon admits that this time, she's not really
fishing for money or prizes.

"To tell you the truth, my goal isn't to win," she said. "To get in the money would be a bonus. But my whole thing is to get back in fighting form and go have fun. There is just so much camaraderie on the women's tour. I'm so excited to be back."

It will be hard for her, even fishing as a co-angler (from the back of the boat with a pro). Aggressive chemotherapy takes a toll on the body that most of us can not imagine. Sharon has been fishing in small spurts ... short trips on her home lake, Table Rock Lake in Missouri. Just last week she fished her first full-day tournament in a year.

"At the end of the day I was really energized, just to get back into competitive fishing," she said. "But once the adrenaline wore off, the next two days were tough."

On the professional women's circuit, the pros make the decisions on where and how to fish. Co-anglers simply follow their lead.

"I hope we're fishing plastics," said Sharon. "It would be tough on me to fish deep crankbaits all day. But if I have to, I can always sit down and rest."

She also hopes she doesn't draw one of the Top 10 women pros.

"I'd want to avoid the Top 10. They're vacuums and it's really hard to fish behind a vacuum," she said, with a smile. "As far as as having a chance to win as a co-angler I'd prefer to be paired with somebody in the 10 to 20 ranking."

Sharon says her family and friends gave her the greatest inspiration through a soul-searching year of cancer and chemotherapy. But a return to the competitive fishing circuit ranked next on her list of motivators.

"As for fishing, I need it mentally," she said. "It gives you something to look forward to so you don't dwell on the negative. It's hard to go back as a co-angler ... but I'm just glad to be back."

She is also glad her biggest sponsors, Tru-Turn Hooks and Bass Pro Shops, have been willing to stick with her through the hard times.

Like all cancer survivors, Sharon knows you're never out of the woods.

"A lot of people with cancer worry about it coming back and about dying," she said. "I don't worry about it. I just go fish."

That my friends, is why Sharon Rushton will always be my hero.

Richard Simms is Outdoors Editor for

Thursday 10 September 2009 - 11:01:40

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