By Brent Frazee
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day I met Brett Hedrick.
Hedrick, who walked with a noticeable limp after years of living with spina bifida, scrambled down a hill to help youngsters participating in the special fishing day he and his wife organized, and he lost his balance.
As he tumbled down the embankment, moms sitting in lawn chairs gasped.
Hedrick, acting embarrassed, quickly dusted himself off and announced, “I’m fine. I’m used to falling. I’m good at it.”
Later, Hedrick turned to me and said, “I’m one of the lucky ones. You look at all these kids in wheelchairs—they have it a lot rougher than I do.”
It was Hedrick’s mission to see that kids afflicted with spina bifida had at least one special moment in their year. And he wanted to accomplish that through fishing.
To me, that made him one of the unsung heroes that we often don’t hear about. Hedrick didn’t crave the spotlight. He wanted the attention to go to the kids.
I wrote several stories on Brett over the years and he always told me, “I’m not the story. You need to write about the kids.”
Well, this time the story is about you, Brett. I was informed by his widow that he died this week of an apparent heart attack.
It was a shock, and I felt the urge to write a tribute to him.
Now that I am retired, I write at a relaxed pace, often when something touches me and inspires me to return to the keyboard. I guess it is a release, putting my emotions to words.
Tonight, I am mourning the loss of one of fishing’s “good guys.” He was just an average guy who did extraordinary things.
He saw the struggles the kids with spina bifida had to endure and he wanted to help. He talked about the hospital stays, the frequent doctor’s visits, the bullying the kids put up with, and he could see himself.
He wanted to help, so he turned to fishing. That had been part of his childhood, a pleasant escape from “being different,” as he put it. He thought it could bring joy to others as well.
So he and his wife Sheila founded the Spina Bifida Kansas City Fishing Day for kids and their families. Brett thought it would be a one-time event. But it proved so popular that he held it for 13 years.
“The kids won’t let me quit,” Hedrick told me.
I always felt like Brett and Sheila looked at their spina bifida fishing day as a holiday, second only to Christmas. They planned for the event year-round and Brett often posted updates on Facebook.
The Hedricks treated the kids like kings and queens. They made sure everyone got a prize, gave trophies to the ones who caught the most and biggest fish, fed everyone who attended and arranged for special features such as an appearance of mini horses for the kids to pet.
A motorcycle club also brought their rides to the fishing day, and members helped the kids with their fishing.
Understand, the Hedricks were far from wealthy. They were just a regular family, struggling to make ends meet. They needed help to pull off their fishing event, and they got plenty.
As word of the event spread, they received donations of used rods and reels, prizes, bait, food and trophies. I donated some of my used fishing equipment and a couple of prizes each year. I also helped the kids whenever I could. I told Brett I wanted to remain anonymous. I felt the same way as he did. This day was about the kids.
Now that Brett is gone, his family vows that the fishing event will go on in his memory. I certainly hope so.
I know Brett will be smiling down on the group of kids and their families next spring.