Ocean Time Gives Kids a Fishing Trip to Remember
by bill kearney
When Jason Taylor and Eyal Lalo met, they had several things in common: cars, boats, and watches. But what really cemented their friendship was a love for the ocean and a desire to help kids. They hatched a plan to join forces and take children with critical illnesses such as cancer as well as burn victims out on the water for a day of fishing. Lalo had a boat perfect for the task, and the Jason Taylor Foundation, which for almost nine years has been cultivating the empowerment of South Florida’s children, had a relationship with Jackson Memorial Medical Center. What started as a cocktail conversation has grown into Ocean Time, a program that has become an ongoing branch of the Jason Taylor Foundation. We sat down with Taylor and Lalo to see just how things started and what it’s like to take young patients away from the drudgery of their treatment and onto the open seas.
OCEAN DRIVE: How did you meet?
JASON TAYLOR: Eyal came by one of our Foundation events to support and say hello.
EYAL LALO: I always had a desire to take the kids fishing, and I’d heard Jason loves fishing, so I reached out. I don’t have the contacts with all the hospitals; from all the great Foundation work, they put it together, and he was on board right away.
JT: You hear so many guys say they want to do this and that, and it never comes to fruition. By the time we got back from the meeting, [Eyal] sent an e-mail around the office and the wheels were already in motion. Within, heck, a week, we were on the water. That’s what I love: It’s real, genuine, and came to fruition very quickly.
What is the core of Ocean Time?
JT: It’s taking kids who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to do so out on the water to get away from the pain and the things they have to deal with on a daily basis. Remember that many of these kids, unfortunately, are terminally ill. [We] get them away from all that—from the hospital, the shots, the doctors, questions, and sorrows—and get them out on the water for a day.
EL: These kids are drowned in medicine all day. There isn’t much to do because of their illness. At some point, getting them out of that environment is, in itself, therapy.
JT: Something about being out on the water is calming. That’s what I envision it being. And while you’re out there, try to catch some fish and bring some joy to these kids for six hours.
Where do the children come from?
JT: They come from the Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. We’ve had a Learning Center down there for eight years now.
How is this funded?
EL: There is zero expense to the Jason Taylor Foundation. This is something we do on a personal level, 100 percent. We don’t raise money for this; we don’t look for events to raise money and buy boats and go out fishing. It is completely subsidized by us. We keep it very personal.
How do the kids react to getting out of the hospital for a day?
EL: A lot of these kids haven’t been on a boat. We let them drive. Even catching bait gets these kids all excited.
JT: Yes, these kids are jumping all around over bait.
EL: They have never seen anything like it—they see the sunrise and the calm, surreal feel out there.
How have the kids done while fishing?
EL: Our mission is that on every trip we have to catch a fish, [but] there’s no guarantee. It’s not going to Disney World to see Mickey Mouse.
JT: Every kid has caught fish.
Any tough moments as you’ve gotten to know them?
JT: Unfortunately, one of the kids who went out fishing with us has since passed away.
Did you stay in contact with the family?
JT: Yes, we spoke. It wasn’t unexpected for them. Still, being a parent, I couldn’t imagine being in their shoes. Not only are you providing therapy for a sick child, but the father was a big fan, and he was talking and laughing. The conversation went to his kid’s situation. I told him, “If you don’t want to give me information, you don’t need to.” He was like, “Look, it’s helpful for me to get it off my chest and get a different point of view.”
EL: When Seth Levit [executive director of the Jason Taylor Foundation] called me to let me know Henry was in his last days, I left the office and went to see him. We make a [photo] album after every trip. That’s what they had at the hospital.
JT: His mom made sure that when they left the house and went to the hospital, they took that with him. He had a good time and caught a bunch of fish.
What has been your favorite moment?
EL: I think for me, after we did one trip, one of the crew was just in tears. He said it was the greatest thing he had ever done. [And] the guy who sells the bait says, “There’s no way I’m taking any money from you.” So there are good people out there. I think the satisfaction people get from it—you can see it coming out of everybody.
JT: It¹’s hard to pick one. We are still in the infancy stage, so to speak. But the eyes tell the story. You see them park the car. They look at the boat—when you untie on the dock and push out, and the captain takes it down and you have a long straightaway, when you move over and say, “You take [the wheel],” the eyes tell it all—all wide-eyed, like, “Holy cow, I’m controlling this boat!” That says it all to me.
photography by gary james (lalo)