Casting for a Cure

  • By:  Emily Brown

Leesa Claywell grew up fishing on the Chesapeake Bay with her family and friends and has fished in every Wine, Women & Fishing Charity Billfish Tournament since its inception. But as years passed the tournament took on a new and deeper meaning for the fishing junkie. Many of the women casting their lines at the 14th Annual Wine, Women & Fishing tournament—to be held August 21—have been touched or affected in some way by breast cancer.

The Wine, Women & Fishing ladies-only tournament may sound like fun and games on the water, but the Chesapeake Bay Wine Classic Foundation’s most colorful event of the year is hooking fish to battle a greater cause. These women are on a serious mission to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.

Wine, Women & Fishing is close to passing its $500,000 fundraising mark this year to benefit cancer research at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). With the money raised, EVMS has been able to recruit top-notch doctors to help win the fight against cancer in the local community, which means a great deal to Leesa. Leesa’s mother, Billie Brown, was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2009. “As anyone could imagine, it was a very difficult thing to go through,” Leesa said.

When her mother was first diagnosed, doctors recommended a partial mastectomy, but soon after, Billie required a full mastectomy. Leesa was nervous about her mother going through multiple surgeries, but Billie was a fighter. Following many grueling rounds of chemotherapy and with the support of her loved ones, Billie has been cancer-free for five years. “Fishing in this tournament is very special to me,” says Leesa. “Knowing the funds we raise are able to help other women like my mother is truly an amazing feeling.” 

The ladies-only tournament launches each year at Southside Marina in Virginia Beach, where more than 200 will women compete and throw in their lines from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The ladies catch a variety of fish, including billfish, tuna, dolphin and wahoo. After a long day on the water, the boats pull into the weighing station one by one. Before the weighing begins, each boat competes in the “crazy crew” contest, featuring a themed show on the stern of each team’s boat. “Most of the boats’ themes focus on breast cancer and we have a blast dancing and singing for the audience and judges,” Leesa said. “It’s just another way to bring awareness to the cause during the tournament.”

Linda Church, chairwoman of Wine, Women & Fishing, also has a deep connection to breast cancer. Linda lost her best friend, Debbie Bunn, at the age of 49 to breast cancer about 10 years ago. “She was so beautiful. Every time I look at her picture I start to tear up,” Linda said. “We have a lot of fun during this competition, but it is so important to realize that this is a fun event for a serious cause.”

Wine, Women & Fishing has grown bigger and better every year. The 2015 tournament saw a record-setting 40 boats fish and a total of 29 billfish caught. “Last year was our biggest year yet, and I want to go above and beyond each year moving forward,” Linda said.

The night concludes with an awards banquet and dock party including wine and bourbon tastings, specialty summer cocktails, a silent auction, and handcrafted goods created by local artisans. It’s a fabulous way to end this unique event!

Wine, Women & Fishing is open to women of all levels of fishing expertise, and trophies are given for first, second and third place. Trophies are also awarded for biggest tuna, dolphin and wahoo, as well as for the Craziest Crew, Top Junior Angler, Hard Luck Crew and Top Lady Angler. To register for Wine, Women & Fishing or to purchase dock party tickets ($75 in advance; $85 at the door), please visit www.cbwc.org.

 

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