By COLE AVERY
Port Isabel-South Padre PRESS
Captain Rudy Garza, Jr. is known for his high-profile fishing charters in the Laguna Madre and beyond. His crews have won first-places in divisions of the Texas International Fishing Tournament for the last three years, and this week he plans to make it a fourth year of winning.
But Tuesday, on the eve of TIFT, Garza made a charter of a different sort. This charter wasn’t about catching trophies; it was about realizing a dream.
Chad Treece, a 14-year-old from Warsaw, Mo., is terminally ill with epithelioid sarcoma. It’s a very rare form of cancer that spreads rapidly. It’s a cancer the young man has been battling for a year.
“There’s no cure. It’s like one in a million. St. Jude’s doesn’t even have treatment. That’s how rare it is,” said Lisa Duckworth, Treece’s mother.
Doctors have told Duckworth this is her son’s last summer. One of Treece’s last wishes was to see the ocean.
For the past week, Treece and his family have been visiting the Texas gulf coast. Duckworth said her son has visited the state aquarium, gone to the Hurricane Alley water park, ridden horses on the beach, surfed, and fished.
“This whole trip has been one surprise after another,” Duckworth said. She said most places gave them their activity for free.
One such activity was, of course, Garza’s fishing trip. Garza and Treece’s family found each other through a chain of unlikely connections that spanned through Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri.
Warsaw, a small town of 3,000, is 16 hours from the Texas coast. Duckworth said friends of the family who work with the Relay for Life sprang into action trying to make Treece’s wish of seeing the ocean come true. After a string of people and phone calls, eventually they connected with Garza.
“It was an honor for that family to choose me,” Garza said.
Garza is used to working around young people. During the school year, he works for the San Benito school district as a technology specialist. In the summer, he charters fishing trips in the Laguna Madre. He said many of his clients are families with children and young people.
“I guess I just have the patience you need to work with them,” Garza said. “You get to see these kids’ reactions when they hook one, and they get so excited. I make a lot of memories.”
Duckworth said Treece loves to fish, but he’s used to the lakes and rivers of Missouri. This was his first time fishing in salt water.
“He’d go everyday if he could,” Duckworth said.
Treece said salt water fishing wasn’t what he expected.
“I thought it’d be easy, but they fought a lot harder than I thought they would,” Treece said.
During his trip out in the bay, Treece spent most of the time at the front of the boat with “Captain Rudy.” He caught catfish and trout, some of which they brought to the Pirate’s Landing restaurant to eat for lunch.
After a week on the Texas coast, the family returns to Missouri on Sunday. They’ll meet with doctors to discuss treatment options. Duckworth said her son has already had seven rounds of chemotherapy treatments, so many that he can’t have anymore until September.
“He’s as active as he can be,” Duckworth said. “He’s proven [doctors] wrong time and again, and I think he’ll prove them wrong again. Right now I’m coping. Each day is a God-given miracle.”
Garza said he doesn’t know how many fish they caught Tuesday, but he wanted Treece to catch more. Likely, no amount would have been enough for Garza, who said he was happy just to have been a part of Treece’s ocean adventure.
Garza said that of all the memories he’s made on the water, Treece’s is at the top of the list. It’s a list that includes TIFT championships, record redfish and even trophies of his own. But for Garza, making Treece smile has meant the most.
“Seeing him fight the fish, it was nice. It was awesome,” Garza said. “We might not have caught a lot, but having him there was a big catch for me.”
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