Perspiration brings inspiration to life; thousands benefit.
It was a little idea that rode along with Al Lindner for years. Those lonely all-night drives, those endless road miles going to exotic fishing locales, those tugs and nods from the Holy Spirit finally emerged.
The idea to conduct a fishing event to bring people from churches to one location to fish, have fun, make new friends and raise funds for a worthy cause made a few stops along the way.
Lindner, a Brainerd-lakes icon inducted into nearly every regional, state, national and international fishing hall of fame for his prowess on the water and skills in front of the camera for more than 40 years, and creator of one of the largest fishing communications companies, finally shared his concept with someone.
That someone was Mike Johnson, the guy in charge of fundraising for Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge. Johnson listened as Lindner passionately explained his vision.
“Fishing tournaments? I don’t know anything about them,” Johnson said.
“I know just the guy,” Lindner responded.
That’s when this story became personal. Johnson called me with what he learned from Lindner the night before. My next call was to Al.
After decades of organizing and directing walleye tournaments across North America, I suddenly had time on my hands.
The wheels turned and soon a marketing plan was presented to the statewide Teen Challenge board. They couldn’t believe a tournament could bring in significant funds. In that meeting, I shot low and said it should make $25,000 or so the first year. They said, “OK, try it.”
That’s how the Minnesota Fishing Challenge came to be in 2009. The eighth annual event takes place on Gull Lake, just north of Brainerd, on June 4. The event is for people of all ages and all skill levels and all species that exist in Gull.
The low bag limits keep all teams in contention in each division: one pike; three walleyes; three panfish in any assortment; and three bass.
The $100 entry fee allows anglers to enter all divisions if they can catch fish. At weigh-in, anglers may elect to enter one fish from each division for the mixed bag. The top 10 teams in each division win merchandise prizes.
“This event has surpassed all expectations,” Lindner said, “As it grows, many more lives will be impacted.”
At each Fishing Challenge, he hears from residents and graduates of the 13-month alcohol and drug residential treatment program.
“They thank me. They tell me they might not be alive without Teen Challenge,” Lindner said. “They share again and again that Teen Challenge is their last, best chance of becoming sober. They’re so grateful they ain’t what they used to be.
“All of us can relate to drugs and alcohol. They surround us. I think most people know someone who has overcome or needs the help that Teen Challenge can provide.”
Lindner lives the fight via his brother Ron, whose life became a struggle with alcohol but who have been sober for more than 35 years. And the mother of Al Lindner’s wife, Mary, was killed by a drunk driver when Mary was 7. Her father was an alcoholic, and a judge sent Mary and her sister to live with foster parents. The two lost touch for 25 years, and when finally reunited, the sister also had been impacted by alcohol, but had recovered. The two women again have become “sisters.”
Lindner said he feels that, with Teen Challenge, a faith-based organization, people do change through the spirit of God.
“None of us will know the final fruit until in heaven, and I believe it will be much more than we can imagine today,” he said.
Of the Fishing Challenge, he said “If God is tugging you, you will find that while you are helping others you will also be helped. God is working at this event.”
Also working to make this event possible are numerous companies, including presenting sponsor Mills Fleet Farm. When approached before the inaugural tournament and asked to support one of the fishing divisions, Stewart Mills III responded that he wanted to support the entire event. He’s been an active partner ever since, attending several weigh-in ceremonies on the beach at Cragun’s Resort.
Some people judge a charity event by the money raised. That figure has grown from about $65,000 in year one to nearly $250,000 last year. But that is only part of the story. The angling teams learn about Teen Challenge and become ambassadors. When a neighbor or relative asks about someone they know with drug or alcohol problems, they refer them to Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, now serving folks in Brainerd, Rochester, Duluth, the Twin Cities and the new Teen Boys Camp in Buffalo. The organization has long-term and short-term residential programs and licensed outpatient care programs. Depending on the campus, Teen Challenge serves men, women and teen boys and girls.
“Each year the Minnesota Fishing Challenge draws a broad mix of people from various faiths and communities and introduces them to our mission of helping people break free from chemical addiction,” said Pastor Rich Sherber, executive director of Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge. “Contestants participate to have a great time, but they also realize the importance of helping others find healing and hope. This support literally saves lives; that’s why so many come back each year wanting to do more.”
Gary Ellis of Ham Lake, Minn., who has participated in every Fishing Challenge, said, “I believe wholeheartedly in the mission of breaking addictive behavior. I’ve also developed friendships that will last the rest of my life. I do enjoy the friendly competition (he and partner Lowell Borgen have placed in the top 10 numerous times) with dads and daughters, grandpas and grandsons and families fishing to support something that is very dear to all of our hearts.”