Bob Fraye
Friday April 22, 2005

Those Steelers who lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game? Paul Julian understands their pain. He fell just short of reaching his goal, too.

Julian, who lives in New Castle, had designs on qualifying for the B.A.S.S. National Federation Championship scheduled for April 27-30 on Florida's Lake Tohopekaliga.

Getting into the championship is an amateur bass angler's dream because the top five finishers earn spots in the Bassmaster Classic, where they get to fish with and against the best bass pros in the world. Moreover, this year's Classic is being held July 29-31 in Pittsburgh.

Julian almost got the chance to be a part of it all. He had the lead going into the final day of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Grand National, a qualifying tournament for the championship.

On the last day, though, he saw his lead wiped out by Eddie Camara of Oklahoma.

Now, Camara is going to the Federation Championship, and Julian is staying home.

Don't expect Julian to show too much disappointment, though. He learned long ago about dealing with pain.

Julian, a 40-year-old father of one daughter, with another baby on the way, was on his way to softball practice one evening 15 years ago when a 10-year-old girl playing chicken ran out in front of his motorcycle. He swerved to miss her and hit a fire hydrant.

"I went to stand up and fell down," said Julian, whose left foot was sheared off in the accident. "I looked down, and it was gone.

"It sounds funny to say, but I accepted it right there. I thought, 'Oh well.' "

That matter-of-fact, don't despair attitude is at least partly the reason Julian has become the fisherman he is. The Paralyzed Veterans bass tour is, in most years, a five-event season, according to PVA spokesman Dan Heidtke. Anglers with disabilities -- who need not be veterans -- fish individually and as a team, working with an able-bodied volunteer fishermen from B.A.S.S. chapters around the country.

The winner of each event gets a Ranger bass boat with gas and electric motors worth about $19,000. Second- through 10th-place finishers get cash.

Fishing the complete tour can be difficult, though. The events held throughout the country -- this year's tournaments are in Texas, Illinois and Missouri -- so competitors have to invest a lot of time and money to do the circuit. Julian is able to fish it because he's sponsored by his employer, Joyce Bender, CEO and founder of Bender Consulting Services Inc. in Pittsburgh.

Bender -- dubbed by Julian as his "Bassmaster Boss" -- is in the business of placing people with disabilities in real-world jobs.

Having Julian travel the country fishing and showing people what he can do when he's not working as a software developer is her best marketing tool, she said.

"Paul's not ashamed of his disability, but he doesn't focus on it," said Bender, who herself has epilepsy. "He's really pioneering the business of showing people that people with disabilities also have abilities.

"Sponsoring him is worth it to me if he can change even one person's attitude."

Julian will reach a lot of people this year. About one hour's worth of coverage of PVA's Grand National will be broadcast on the Outdoor Life Network sometime in May or June, Heidtke said.

A camera crew spent three days with Julian during that event, so he figures to be featured prominently. Julian doesn't think about having lost a leg when he's fishing, especially since there are other PVA anglers competing despite having more severe disabilities.

One angler, for example, ties his own lures onto his line, casts and retrieves, and frees his own fish, despite having no arms.

Julian hopes that he can serve as an example for others, though, all while having fun on the water.

"Winning is not easy," said Julian, who has one first-place finish to his credit. "It's tough, really tough. But I've increased my fishing skill 10-fold, and I'm having fun. A lot of people are envious of me."