July 12, 2018

Shelby Peterson

Imagine the thing you love to do the most, the thing in your life that makes it whole, that makes you the person that you are. Now imagine that its taken away from you. That is how my journey started. I was on my way to work just before 6 in the morning mid May when I slipped down some back stairs. Unfortunately when I slipped I landed on the side of my left foot and was told a few hours later that it was broken. It is important to understand that living in Utah diving is limited because it is too cold a majority of the year. I had only gone diving once in the season when I was told I wouldn’t be able to dive for 6 weeks maybe longer. 

   I had never truly realized my love or my passion for spear fishing until I was told I couldn’t do it. No matter how much I was told it was only temporary, that I would heal, it didn’t console me. I am not and have never been a patient person, I am self aware in that fact and that fact is what made the situation 10 times worse. 

   My amazing husband is the one who introduced me to the sport of spearfishing and naturally,even though I was broken, no force on earth would keep him from it. Sitting at home alone while he went off and fished was absolute torture. I was always his dive partner I was always the road trip buddy going to far away lakes. I had ever sat and sulked so intensely in my life until those moments where he was away doing what we both love, without me.

     I immediately new when the doctors informed me of my broken foot that it would not be healed in time to compete in the 2018 National Championships. Regardless of that fact I asked every doctor I saw if there was any way I would be able to dive. All of them said no and highly recommended against it, but I do not easily take no for an answer and decided I would risk it anyway. In an attempt to let my injured foot heal and to avoid injuring it more my husband Ryan banned me from any sort of diving before the tournament at Lake Powell.

    I agreed with him that I should go easy on it so I complied. I had one practice dive at Fish Lake before the tournament which was more of a floating around shooting fish from the surface trip than a diving trip for me. That being the case I was more than anxious headed to scout Lake Powell with a broken untested foot.

 We both work full time jobs so we were only able to get off enough work to have two days to scout before the competition. The first day of scouting we had no boat captain and opted to not scout the parts of the lake we had been to in the past to save gas time and energy. To my surprise diving to scout was not particularly painful and my hopes were immediately higher than they had been in months. Ryan and I had lived in the St. George area for about an 8 month period and in that time had been to Lake Powell and before that had been a few times with friends. He even proposed to me under water while spearfishing there. All of our previous experience at Lake Powell however, had been when all the other lakes were too cold. We had only ever been diving there in April or October and November. In all those times previously there had been fairly few fish, although Lake Powell is always a magnificent place to dive we had no hopes of there being a high fish count in the tournament based on previous experiences. Imagine our surprise when the first place we scouted we saw almost every fish species included in the competition!

  Although the first few dives were encouraging scouting was not a dream. From bands breaking on spear guns to accidently losing weight belts into the unknown depths,and a lower amount of fish in every new spot the odds seemed stacked against us. Although I was not in a significant amount of pain after day one I was still discouraged. Mostly because I felt so out of shape and out of practice that I felt I had no chance of doing well in the competition. Also because I knew who we would be competing against and although we found a few fish I had a feeling they would find a lot more.

  Day two was more of a blur to me. My amazing In-laws had come to help captain the boat and although I will be forever grateful, it is always a little trying teaching new boat captains the lay of the boat and the gear and the art of picking up and dropping off divers. It did not help me to be  surrounded by people who love me and were very concerned about my injury, that I kept insisting was fine to no avail. I was endeared by the concerned but also annoyed as I do not like to be babied even if I should be. I was out of the water more the second scouting day to ensure that my foot that had been feeling fine so far remained that way and also because we ran out of places to scout within a decent distance and with dive-able visibility. 

     Next came the first competition day. Game fish day. We were allowed to submit Catfish, pan fish, Striper, and Walleye. The night before we had come up with a vague plan deciding where our first destination on the lake would be and a back up incase we were beaten our first choice by any competing divers. The first spot was one that Ryan and I had scouted where he had seen a ton of fish and I had seen almost none so my hopes were not high, but I trusted if I went on the other side of the point I would find fish as he said.  I did not. It was so discouraging that when I had given up after seeing only carp and one lone catfish I got to the boat to see Ryan with a stringer full of Catfish and Striper. I couldn’t help but let it get in my head. Was I going to easy on my foot and not taking deep enough dives? Was I so caught up in failing that the fish could feel how tense I was? I tried to not think such thoughts but they came anyway. The next spot I remember was one where we had seen blue gill, which should be easy points. I felt as though we had been cursed when we arrived at said spot and there were bass fisherman in the exact spot we had seen the blue gill. We decided to get in any way a few hundred yards away as to not impede but hopefully still find fish. My first dive I spotted a walleye barely bigger than a baby but still worth points. I landed him and that’s all I needed to get my hopes up. I was able to find blue gill and land my limit of five easily and I also found 2 more decent walleye and landed 6 cat fish through out the day. Ryan got a total of 7 cat fish, 5 blue gill, 4 striper, and 5 walleye. By the time we were headed back we both felt as though we did decently but neither of us were too confident as we had no idea how others had faired.

   It was a moment of joy when the points were tallied and I saw I was leading the women and Ryan was 2nd place in mens, together we were first mixed team. After so much doubt I was secretly very giddy but hesitantly so because I knew from experience that the tables can turn very quickly after rough fish day.

    When rough fish day came I was pumped. I had never seen so many carp in Lake Powell prior to the last few days and I felt confident I could land a lot of them. The day started bumpy as we had a late start out of the Marina and our spot that we lovingly named carptopia only held two carp for me and none for Ryan. Our next area was much more fruitful and Ryan and I were able to leap frog passed each other down a long finger in the lake full of carp, and spent nearly half of the competition time in that spot. After we had covered as much of the finger as we could without intruding on vacationing house boaters we headed to our next spot. On our way there we hit a shallow area and had to slow down to an idle, when we did we noticed at least 30 carp swimming right under the boat and decided to take our chances in the murky shallows. We are both used to low visibility and figured we could manage well. To explain the amount of carp in this spot Ryan had landed 10 carp in less than 10 minutes and I close to it. We spent the remainder of the day in those shallows shooting unsuspecting carp in 5-7 feet of water. I was even able to land 2 decent sized shad which are not seen as often in Lake Powell anymore and were not taken by any other competitor. After a confusion with Arizona and Utah time we ended up out of the water headed back an hour earlier than necessary which ended up being a blessing in disguise because the weight of the carp and a sudden wind storm made our travel back much slower. I ended up landing 46 carp and Ryan landed 64, a new personal record for both of us. We felt good. Having been to tournaments where people shoot 100+ we were not over joyed but we had both beat our personal bests and it was a good day.

     It is always the longest part of the tournament for me when I sit and watch score after score get written on the board at weigh in’s. It seemed like ages before Ryan and I realized that we had won in the Mixed team division I had won Overall in Womens and Ryan had won 5th overall out of the men. This meant even more to us as I had won first over all woman at the nationals tournament in 2017 and by winning first again it meant I had qualified to compete in the 2019 World Freshwater Spearfishing Championship in New Zealand, which Ryan and I have both dreamed about participating in ever since the opportunity to compete in the 2017 World Championship in Las Vegas. I had done it and my foot only felt as though someone had been poking a sore bruise for a week.

   The award ceremony was surreal, it always is. It is an amazing experience to be surround by World class divers that are so passionate about the same sport you are and that love it just as much. I always feel so incredibly honored to be in such great company. It was amazing to watch my husband stand and get awarded along side people who compete in the salt water world competitions and own their own dive shops, and travel around the world sponsored by the top names in spearfishing. To see him there standing with them earning his award was such a proud moment for me, and I know he felt just as proud as me to be standing next to amazing woman divers who have made names for themselves in the spearfishing world. However my favorite part was to stand hand in hand with my partner in everything and accept a beautiful award for doing well at what we both love. I am forever grateful to my wonderful husband for teaching me about the thing I now love to do most, and I am so excited and honored to have him as my partner in the 2019 World Championship in New Zealand. Win, lose, or in between I am so grateful and honored to be a part of the spearfishing community.