Racine, WI – After seven World Championships of Freshwater Fishing and a Guinness World Record for most fish caught in 24 hours, you’d think that Marathon Man Jeff Kolodzinski would have settled for a leisurely day on the water. Not so. His tireless desire to help people through the language of fishing drove him to his next Marathon Mission 9/11 to benefit military families and first responders.
“I’ve always had a heart for our military members and their families,” Kolodzinski shares. “They’ve given so much to our nation and I feel like it’s the least I can do to help them in their time of need.”
“I’ve been incredibly blessed for my entire career and the sport of fishing has given me so much. What other way do I know how to help others than through the language of fishing?” adds the Marathon Man.
For years Kolodzinski has done 24-hour fishing marathons benefitting military families like Fishing For Life’s “NextGen” Program which pairs kids and mentors for families who are going through difficult times. “It’s an incredible program and there have been so many beautiful stories to come out of this program and it’s true for both the kids and the adults,” shares the Marathon Man.
“With this being the 20th anniversary of the events of 9/11, I wanted to serve our first responders and our military families who both pay such a heavy price for our country. I wanted them to know that their sacrifice and commitment is valued – valued in a way that compels us to act,” adds the Marathon Man.
In May of this year, the Marathon Man publicly shared the goal of catching 2,977 fish in honor of each life lost on 9/11. “I hoped to break not just the Guinness Record, but even more wanted to break the sense of hopelessness and isolation that so many people from these groups often have. The Marathon Man event is an unmistakable effort to say we remember—then and now,” remarks the Marathon Man.
“And I could think of no better way to honor them than to bring together a coalition of people who also appreciate their service,” continues the Marathon Man.
So, what else would a 24-hour fishing maniac do other than organize a fishing fundraiser?
“That’s why I took to the bank at Sankoty Lakes to fish for 24 hours straight and catch 2,977 fish—one fish for every life lost on 9/11,” shares the Marathon Man.
The Marathon Man Mission 9/11 mission was held at Sankoty Lakes & Resort in Spring Bay, Illinois and began at 9:11pm Central on Friday, September 10th – through 9:11 pm Saturday, September 11th.
To achieve this outrageous goal, Kolodzinski would have to catch more than two fish per minute.
Conditions couldn’t have been more perfect. It was sunny in the low 80s with very little wind and a few clouds in the sky. The fishing started off fast and Kolodzinski felt like he had a chance to catch almost 3000 fish in 24 hours.
However, as the sun got high and the wind stopped and the temperatures climbed, toward 4 pm the fishing slowed and Kolodzinski was unsure he could meet his goal. He began to doubt that it was possible. “The only way to counter that was to buckle down and see if I could get back on track over the course of the next 90 minutes. And in the course of the next 90 minutes, I caught several hundred fish that enabled me to do the mental math required to once again believe the goal was possible.”
The Marathon managed to bring himself back to focus on the task at hand and close out the last couple 100 fish to get to 2977. The bank had grown thick with people and they were seated in all directions behind the angler.
“As I got closer and closer to within about 10 fish of the goal, I could feel the electricity all the way up the bank and people were wanting to cheer and completely bust loose, celebrating the incredible feat. But I was sure that all the people who lost loved ones on that day knew it was a solemn moment. So, after the last couple of fish to the goal, I laughed and turned to the crowd and said, ‘I know that you want to celebrate but this is really a somber day so as I catch this final fish to mark the 2900 and 77th person who lost their life on 9/11, I would just ask that you join me in a minute of silence so remove your hats and let’s say a prayer for the families of those who live on. One of the first responders played taps on the trumpet and there wasn’t a sound from miles; all you could hear in the quiet early fall evening was that single trumpet announcing the quintessential melody of sadness and loss,” recalls the Marathon Man.
The Marathon Man went on to thank the crowd for coming and he let them know how much it meant to him for their support. “I felt led to say a prayer for the first responders and the military members that were on the bank there in support. I’m not sure how I fought through the emotions to maintain even my own consciousness, but God gave me the strength and the words to get through it. As I gazed into the crowd, I noticed grown battle-hardened men weeping and turning away to collect themselves. It was one of the best days of my life,” says the Marathon Man.
While the goal had been reached, there were still two hours left to fish. The Marathon Man didn’t think it appropriate to end the mission, so he fished on for the final two hours and ended with a total of 3,168 fish in 24 hours! “Reaching the goal of one fish for every life lost on 9/11 was the primary goal but I still had the opportunity to set a new Guinness Record for a full 24 hours of fishing.”
Of course, this begs the question of how to top the event in 2022. You guessed it—the number to beat will start with 3169 fish.
Because of the generosity and support of so many individuals and entities in the fishing industry, the Marathon Man crew is proud to announce that it raised close to $50,000 for the cause, far and away a fundraising record. The resources raised will fully fund several kids’ fishing camps so that the kids and families will be able to find the support they need as they grow through difficult seasons of life. As well, the Spring Bay, Illinois First Response Team will receive significant help in attaining a necessary piece of lifesaving equipment as they design and acquire a new firefighting watercraft.
“I was pretty happy to have so many fishing companies support our event and help raise funds. I am especially grateful that the Black Rifle Coffee Company partnered because there’s no way I would have been able to stay up the 24 hours without several thermos fillings of their brew,” recalls the Marathon Man.
He continues: “I know there’s a lot of desperation out there—especially as of late. I know there are really struggling. I hope and pray that they saw what a small group of devoted people could do to encourage them and honor their sacrifice and be reminded that their service is neither lost nor diminished. From the inception of the Marathon Man events in 2006, military service members have fueled me to do the Marathon Man events.”
“We weren’t meant to walk through life alone. In fact, we all were created expressly for relationships, so I want to make sure that these kids can find support and healthy relationships when they need them most. That’s why I want to see Fishing For Life’s Next-Gen program increase in reach and funding to help more families of our service members,” notes the Marathon Man.
The Marathon Man sums up his mission: “I simply wish I could raise enough support to help them all, but perhaps someday. Until then, I will strive to be as effective as I can by helping Fishing For Life’s Next-Gen Program and the local First Responders of Spring Bay, IL.”
He continues: “It’s been 20 years since we lost loved ones on 9/11. From that time until now our First Responders and Military Members have continued to pay a price. That’s why I wanted them to know that they are loved and appreciated. The world we live in is exponentially more complex than it was in 2001 and so many people feel their hope slipping away. I want them to know that they are loved and appreciated much more than words attempt to express. I wanted them to see action and commitment. Ultimately, I wanted to make a difference in the lives of our Military Families and our local First Responders. All in all, I can gratefully and humbly say mission accomplished!”