“I always look forward to the tournaments because that’s the time I get to be with my friends.”
Tony Choe came to the United States from South Korea when he was 17 years old. He joined the Marine Corps Reserve as a way to “put his roots down” and learn American culture, while also completing college.
But two years after serving in the Reserves, he was working at his family’s convenience store when a robber shot Tony in the back and left him paralyzed.
At the time, his doctor gave him a 10% chance of survival.
“The only thing I could think about in the hospital was driving and going back to work and how I was ever going to be normal again,” Tony says. “It was devastating, and I thought my life had ended right there.”
But during his rehabilitation, a friend introduced him to Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Bass Tour event, which includes seven fishing tournaments each year in various states. Tony grew up ocean fishing in Korea with his father, so he signed up for the program hoping he’d be a natural fit.
On his very first bass fishing trip, he won the tournament, and since then has been named Angler of the Year several times and has racked up many more awards. But it’s the friendships and excitement of the sport that keeps him—pardon the pun—hooked.
“Winning prizes is good, but it’s not about that,” he said. “You get to come to new places, you get to meet new people, you get to fish new bodies of water. It’s priceless. When you set the hook and you catch the fish and bring it in, you just have to enjoy every moment.”
Tony makes a living working as an IT specialist at the State Department, and the tournaments give him a break from technology. “I’m out there catching fish instead of fighting with computers,” he says.
“My life has revolved around the Paralyzed Veterans bass tour,” Tony says. “I always look forward to the tournaments because that’s the time I get to be with my friends. Everyone who fishes the tour is like a family member.”
Tony says his greatest reward is inspiring others and showing them that they can live life to the fullest, even from a wheelchair. He hopes his success will allow other disabled people to realize their potential, no matter what their goals are.
“People respect me; in fact, they don’t even look at me as if I have a disability,” Tony says. “I want people to not think about my disability but my ability. Fish do not care whether you’re in a wheelchair, an amputee or brain injured. I can fish just like anybody else out there.”