By Todd Ceisner
Bassmaster Elite Series pro John Murray has fished through nagging pains and discomfort before. What pro angler hasn’t? But this was unlike anything he’d experienced.
He’d had pains in his legs before, going back a year and a half, but a little bit of exercise usually helped it to dissipate. Things had progressed to the point this year, however, that getting out of bed or even standing up out of a chair was a major undertaking for the Arizona resident.
It got so bad that he began to question whether he could continue fishing at the pro level.
The shooting pains in his legs and shoulders that eventually migrated to his arms and hands began to impact not just his fishing, but his quality of life. He wanted answers.
He thought it was an issue with his neck so he sought the help of an orthopedist. After a brief respite thanks to a steroid treatment, the pain returned. Last month, he saw a rheumatologist and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that affects 1.3 million Americans.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, RA causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues, specifically the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. As a result of the attack, fluid builds up in the joints, causing pain in the joints and inflammation that’s systemic – meaning it can occur throughout the body.
There are no known cures, but it’s treatable with medication.
‘What The Heck Is Happening?’
Murray’s symptoms fell right in line with what others who suffer from RA experience. He recalled having trouble walking after a long drive home from a tournament about 2 years ago.
“It was like plantar fasciitis times 10,” he told BassFan. “It was a weird deal. I had issues for about a year, mostly in my legs, but I could walk it out. Once I’d get going, it’d be good.”
While working at a seminar in Michigan earlier this year, he felt twinges of pain in his right foot, but it wasn’t a normal, everyday ache.
“I actually felt pain moving from one side of my foot to the other,” he said. “It felt like something was in my body.”
The discomfort progressed as the Elite Series season got under way.
“Earlier this year (at Okeechobee), I’d made the cut and went to the Evan Williams tent and had a drink and I couldn’t get up out of my chair,” he explained. “It was like I was frozen. Everything in my body hurt. I was like, ‘What the heck is happening?’
“Then it started every day where I’d wake up and couldn’t move. It was one of those deals where I had never-ending pain somewhere.”
He began trying to find the cause or isolate the triggers of the pain, so he quit drinking caffeine – he’d been drinking 10 to 12 Diet Cokes a day.
“I quit drinking alcohol,” he said, “and just really started to keep it simple with water, but I was still having the pain.
What A Relief
Murray sought the help of an orthopedist in Huntsville, Ala., and underwent an MRI and was given a steroid pack for his neck, as that was the suspected source of the pain.
“The next day I felt like a million bucks, like I could run around and climb the highest mountain,” he added.
The pain went away for about 10 days, but after the medication wore off, he was back to where he was.
“Bull Shoals was miserable, but Douglas (Lake) turned out to be pretty miserable pain-wise,” he said. “I knew I had something. The MRIs all came back negative so I knew it wasn’t my neck or my back.”
Then it was time for the Elites to fish Toledo Bend in Louisiana.
“Toledo Bend was the worst pain I’ve ever felt,” he said.
The only way he made it through practice and 3 days of competition was to bum a couple of pain pills from fellow pro Byron Velvick, who still deals with neck pain after having spinal fusion surgery in 2010.
“I literally couldn’t have fished that tournament without those pain pills,” he added. “I couldn’t hold a rod at that point and couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I was like, ‘This is my last tournament.’”
After seeing a rheumatologist, he’s been on a treatment plan and the medication has resulted in a sharp decline in his pain levels and has allowed him to focus more on fishing.
“The last 2 tournaments, physically, I felt fine,” he said. “Now that I have a diagnosis and am on the right medication, it’s treatable. It’s not curable, but I feel a lot better about the future. It was scary when it was happening.”
> He’s cashed just two checks this year – Okeechobee and Toledo Bend – and sits 81st in Elite Series points. With his pain levels now manageable, expect him to go for the win at Oneida where he has a 3rd (2007) and a 28th (2008) on his Elite Series résumé.
> At ICAST last week, Murray helped River2Sea unveil its new Bumbershoot umbrella rig and Rig Walker swimbait. The Bumbershoot is a versatile take on the original Alabama Rig that allows anglers to easily remove or replace wire arms, if needed, and swap out the willow blades that come standard. To learn more, click here.