By Todd Ceisner
When Cliff Pace's doctors told him he was looking at a full year of recovery and rehab from the leg injury that forced him to sit out the entire 2014 Elite Series season, Pace laughed.
He figured he could just hit fast-forward and become bass fishing's version of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and be back on the water in half the prescribed time. As hard as he's tried, though, the doctors' outlook seems to be about right.
The 2013 Bassmaster Classic champion walked without a noticeable limp while wandering the aisles at ICAST earlier this month, but he says he's still a ways off from being 100 percent recovered from the hunting accident in January that left him with a left leg broken in two places and a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
"It's nice to be out and moving around and finally able to do something," he said. "Being at ICAST (was) the first opportunity I had to see a lot of people that I normally see on a fairly regular basis. I've gotten a lot of phone calls from a lot of them checking on me, but to be up and about has been nice."
He's fished from a boat some – he was on the water as far back as March, with some assistance – but hasn't done a full day by himself yet. He still has some pain when walking or sitting in a vehicle for long spells, but it's slowly subsiding. He said he toyed with the idea of trying to fish the final two Elite Series events of the season, but ultimately chose rest and rehab over a potential setback in his recovery.
"I can't wait to get back in the boat, obviously, and that's going to happen here pretty quick, but I'm just not quite there yet," he said. "I'll be ready to go next year and that's what I'm focused on more than anything else."
Putting in His Time
Pace suffered his injuries in late January while climbing down from a tree stand after a day of deer hunting in his native Mississippi. His hand slipped out of his glove on the way down and he fell to the ground, his left foot landing in a hole, causing the injuries.
It was the first serious injury he'd ever suffered and led to his first turn in the operating room. After the initial healing period, he's been on a steady rehab and physical therapy regimen that now consists of three sessions per week that involve time on a balance ball and treadmill.
"It really surprised me that it took as long as it did," he said. "My doctors told me it was going to take a year and I kind of laughed at them, but now that it's been 7 months, I'm starting to believe them.
"The rehab has been good. I was fortunate to get hooked up with some doctors that really understood what I was trying to accomplish."
His says his leg feels fine now, but the lingering discomfort that's associated with the ACL injury is what's holding him back.
"It doesn't matter what you do, that's just a 1-year recovery and that's what we're letting time fix," he added. "I can fish about half of a day or three quarters as long as it's not real windy or rough. That's what's keeping me from trying to go fish the last couple Elite Series events of the year."
Anxious To Get Back
The time off, while not at all what Pace had planned, allowed him to spend more time with his newborn daughter, Jordan Baylee Pace, at home.
"It's been really neat. It truly has," he said. "I definitely got to experience a lot more than I would have had I been fishing this year. With the situation being what it was it's been good to be home."
When the conversation shifts to tournaments, though, his tone changes and it's obvious he has missed the competition dearly. His only saving grace is the Bassmaster Elite Series shows on DVR.
"I'm probably ready to go more now than I ever have been," he said. "Not doing something you love for 6 or 7 months, it's not fun. You miss it. I know for sure I'm ready to get back out there and do it and I know it's out there waiting on me to get back and that makes the waiting that much harder. It'll be here before I know it.
"I've always DVR'd the shows and I do enjoy watching them. Besides being a part of the sport I've always been a fan of the sport and always will be and I try to keep up with it through my friends who are out there. You miss it. You become part of a family out there and I'm really ready to get back at it."