Special athletes honor late friend during fishing event

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VENICE, Fla. – Special Olympic athletes took to the water in Venice Thursday, thanks to some local cops and the community. This year it's in memory of one them no longer with us.

Those like Larry Aubin were ready to reel in the big one. "I'm gonna get a good fish."

29-local Special Olympic athletes engaged in a friendly competition. They were brought together by Marine Officer Paul Joyce and the Venice Police Department.

The day on the water means a lot. “It gives the athletes something to do, someplace to go, something they don't normally ever get to do."

None of it was possible without local captains volunteering their time, vessel, and fuel. In the program’s 12th year, they've gone from four to more than 20.

"It's the best day of the year. If every day were like Christmas, it would look like this." Captain Billy Heath with Blue Dolphin Charters says they lend their expertise, but he feels as though they're the ones learning something from the athletes. "The thing I see the most in the years we have been participating in this program, is the love they have for each other. It really sets the mark for the rest of us."

On their sleeve this year, these athletes were remembering one of their own. "He's watching over us right now," said Larry.

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At 25 years old, JT Despres lost his life last year after fighting heart ailments from a rare genetic disease. "I am here to do what I am supposed to do -- get some fish for him," said Larry.

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JT Despres

JT serves as a reminder of why they take the time. "He was always a special part of it; really enjoyed and looked forward to getting out here with us,” said Officer Joyce.

The day ended at Marine Max in Venice with more contributions from the local business community, from food and gifts, to checks from local organizations.

"It's a very special day. Just seeing the smiles of these athletes is the number one thing," says Joyce.