The Hammer is back.
Just over a year ago, Jamie Hartman was laid up with debilitating back pain and had to end his season prematurely. Two weeks ago, Hartman claimed his second Bassmaster Elite title in two months with a comeback victory on Cayuga Lake.
Hartman, one point shy of winning the 2017 Rookie of the Year title, reported back pain in the early going of his sophomore season, then he went down for the count with a ruptured disk in June 2018 at La Crosse, Wis. Unable to stand, and even pained to sit, he received a medical hardship for the season, and thoughts crept in that he might never fish competitively again.
“I tried to stay as positive as I possibly could, but it was wearing me down, mentally, physically,” Hartman said. “The pain was just so bad and it was just almost constant. It just took a toll on me. Yeah, I questioned (ever fishing again). I know backs are a bad deal. I watched my brother go through it and ultimately lose his life to it.”
Seeing his younger brother, Chris, die at the age of 34 was a brutal experience Hartman calls the worst thing that’s ever happened in his life.
“There’s more to it, but it was back surgeries and tons and tons of pain, which led to pain killers and all sorts of stuff,” Hartman said. “Just so many years of doing it took a toll on him. It was an extremely rough 2009.”
Being so close to that tragedy gave Hartman the impetus to remedy his problem, vowing the same thing wasn’t going to happen to him.
After making the cut at the Sabine River in early June of 2018, Hartman’s back worsened, even putting him in a Little Rock hospital for a night. He still wanted to try to compete, so he had someone drive his rig as he lay in the bed of his truck for a 13-hour ride to the June 21-24 event on the Mississippi River.
“I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t walk,” he said. “At that point I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was sciatica — I’ve dealt with it before.
“I tried to fish the last day of practice at La Crosse just to get something going. I made it 2 1/2 hours of practice, and I was collapsed on the deck in so much pain. I couldn’t even drive my own boat back to the ramp because I couldn’t put my foot on the hot foot. The pain was just so excruciating. I was done at that point.”
Laid up back home, he began to wonder what fate would befall him, and although he hoped and tried to keep a positive outlook, he contemplated a future without fishing.
“The unknown was at that point,” he said. “Is this even possible? How severe is this problem I have? I hear of all these people, I see all these people and know what my brother went through, and of course that’s running through my brain. Am I ever going to be able to get back to it?”