Many of us hop on our boats for a good time. But occasionally you meet people who use their boats to have fun and do good. Paul Robertson, shown above at left, is one.
Robertson grew up in Ocean City, Maryland, where he began boating at a young age. He embraced the sport through his teens and into his 20s and 30s, eventually discovering a sweet spot for billfish. He’d always make time to troll lines offshore, even though he had commitments at home, where he was building a business and raising four children with his wife. Then one day, he went to consult with a doctor after taking a few falls. He learned he had Limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, for which there is no cure.
He lived with the disease for a couple of years before he hit a low point. “After a bad fall in the garage, I lost it. I hit rock bottom.” Fortunately, a friend called to check in. When he learned Robertson was in a tough place, he asked him about a business plan he had developed a few years earlier to start a professional fishing team. “He told me to get on it, because dreams expire,” says Robertson.
His original vision for the team was mostly to have fun and make a little profit. But after his fall, he added a charitable component. “I wrote a letter to the CEO of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and pitched an idea to co-brand a fishing team. My goal was to do tournaments to raise awareness for the disease and raise funds for MDA.” When his proposal was accepted, Robertson founded the nonprofit Fishing For MD (FFMD).
In 2015, he was at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show looking for sponsors. He found a few, including Everglades Boats, which offered him a 435CC to use on the tournament circuit. It would be the first of six boats that Everglades donated to the FFMD.
Today, Robertson’s team fishes about 22 tournaments a year. Purse winnings are just one way FFMD raises money. Robertson also chairs an annual gala, which is attended by his contacts in the marine industry, among others. It raised $300,000 its first year and $600,000 at each of the three consecutive events.
Covid-19 has put a wrench in his plans to fish in the months ahead, but FFMD will still be on the water, with Robertson at the helm of an Everglades, wearing the smile that never seems to leave his face. “I’m 52 and I have a great life,” he says. “I have a family, I work hard and I feel good knowing my work with FFMD is making a positive impact.”
This article was originally published in the January 2021 issue.