Fishing doesn’t always turn out how we’d planned. In many ways, life is the same.
For Carolyn Stash, life has been filled with unexpected twists and turns, all of which have led her to the water.
Stash grew up in Connecticut but after an accident left her in the hospital, she decided that when she was fully recovered, she would make the move south to Florida. That was 1995. Several years later she found herself helping a friend look for a tracking device for their boat soon realizing she couldn’t find anything that suited the particular need.
This led her to begin doing research on tracking devices for boats and other vehicles eventually prompting her to reach out to a Canadian air tracking business to see what else was out there. With that new inspiration, she decided that if she couldn’t find the right tracker then she would develop a GPS tracking system herself. In 2012 she did just that.
In order to try and get her new business, Atlastrax, off the ground she began volunteering much of her time at local tournaments where she would set up a booth, advertise her product and donate trackers. Eventually, the company had enough momentum for Carolyn to make this her fulltime job and in 2014 Atlastrax became her fulltime profession. Along with this milestone in her new business, Carolyn was also starting to receive offers to fish with teams out on their boats as a guest angler.
This included the Reel Captivating, a 62′ Viking, owned by Wayne Jenkins, who was the first owner to offer his boat for Carolyn to fish on. She credits Jenkins as the person who helped kickstart her journey in tournament fishing with that first donation of the use of his boat since then offering the Viking for use multiple times. From this, Carolyn also began another venture, in the form of the Atlastrax Ladies Fishing Team. The group kicked off at the 2017 Blue Water Babes Tournament on the Reel Captivating and the women would end up being not only a committed crew during tournaments but in each other’s lives as well.
In 2018, when her business was fully up and operational and new tournaments loomed on the horizon, Carolyn’s life changed. Before an October tournament, she had noticed a lump in her breast but didn’t think anything of it. It was only after the tournament, on Oct. 14, 2018, that she went in for a checkup and was told the news no one wants to hear: she had breast cancer. On November 14, she went into surgery.
“It was a little too fast for me,” Carolyn recalls noting that the people she’d been fishing alongside were with her all the way. “The girls surrounding me were either survivors or going through it or girls I met from just volunteering at the tournaments…they prepped me for all stuff I was soon to experience. Everyone rallied around me.”
And everyone on the team has been affected by breast cancer in one way or another—there are two cancer survivors on the team, Carolyn being one, while the others have had someone close to them who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
During the times she couldn’t run her business, the fishing community stepped up to the plate, whether that was through emotional support or helping out financially, such as when the Bluewater Babes assisted with her car payments. With this group of people surrounding her, she began the journey to recovery, step by step.
Even now, more than a year later and cancer-free, she has found a support team like no other.
“People don’t realize that after surgery you’ve got to take medication for five years which is extremely painful on your joints and you have these hot flashes and weight gain,” Carolyn says. “This circle of women who had cancer or experienced it in some way just overwhelmingly helped me with support. When I lost some time in recovery people stepped up and helped with whatever they could do which was amazing.”
As Carolyn began to heal, the desire to be back out on the water was stronger than ever and, when the time was right, her crew of women were heading out together to not only fish again but share their stories.
“We’re really pushing to get the ladies team back out in the fishing circuit,” Carolyn says. “We want to let people know we’re breast cancer survivors and if you’re going through this too or know someone who is [diagnosed with cancer] or have questions we want to help.”
One memorable moment this year was when the women were able to compete in the Los Sueños Ladies Billfish Tournament on January 14 where they finished fifth overall on the Sea Fly, a 50′ Maverick donated by Maverick Sportfishing Costa Rica.
“We were just so proud of ourselves,” Carolyn says.
On top of this, Bill Royster, Los Sueños Resort and Marina President and CEO in Costa Rica, introduced himself to the women who then had their tournament registration paid for by the resort, along with providing them with accommodations and meals during their stay.
“We could not have gone without Los Sueños’ donation,” Carolyn explains.
Still, there have been hard days. Because of the medication Carolyn has had to take, there are many times where she is in constant pain making it difficult to move. But even that has caused her team to rally together.
“We’d be fishing a tournament and the girls would surround me and help hold the rod so I could turn the handle,” she recalls, adding “once you get out there in the salt air you’re not thinking about anything other than fishing, you forget about the medicine you’re taking or the treatments you’re going to have or the next surgery you’re going to have.”
And going forward with reconstructive surgery is another decision she is trying to make.
“When you go in for surgery you don’t really know what’s going to happen when you come out and luckily my result was good,” Carolyn says. “You think, well gee, I’m kind of used to the way I look now and having surgery would be great but if I didn’t do it that’s ok too.”
Until that time comes, Carolyn is focused on her business—all women-run she proudly notes—as well as continuing to find ways to give back in the same way she received. This includes being a part of The Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis, an event where teams paddleboard from Bimini in the Bahamas to Florida to raise awareness and funds for the cystic fibrosis community. She’ll be paddling this in 2021. Carolyn was also nominated to be a Warrior for the Florida chapter of Susan G. Komen organization.
While Carolyn, of all people, knows that plans change, she hopes that down the line she will also be able to do more. This includes the goal to start a 5013c while continuing to share her and other cancer survivors’ stories through fishing, something they all look forward to, knowing that if a boat is available, she and the team will make it happen.
“I really want to be able to help and mentor other women who might be going through this,” she says. “It just makes you so excited to tell other people I’m a survivor, I still have a long way to go, but my prognosis is good…don’t’ be afraid to try fishing. the adrenaline of it takes away the pain of the day.”
In the end, despite the different paths that have brought her to where she is now, there will always be the open water and a tight-knit community on the water nearby.
“The fishing community is amazing,” Carolyn says. “When you get off that boat at the end of the day, it just makes you so excited to tell other people, I’m a survivor.”
For more information on the Atlastrax Ladies Fishing Team, call 954.465.3743 or email email@example.com.
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