Over the last few years, my column has presented several profiles of unusual people. These are some of the most extraordinary people I have been privileged to know.
Among those profiled, who are qualified to walk into the wilderness and create a comfortable life despite the overwhelming challenges – Mike and Christine Smith immediately come to mind.
Some create beauty, while others take on exceptional challenges. And then there are those who live life to the fullest. These people understand that life is a gift that should not be wasted.
Enter Derrick and Robin Sears, a dynamic couple who have a home in Seebert. One, I might add, that they built themselves. I am fortunate to call them neighbors.
For months on end, they worked on their home from morning till night. I started to take note of their endurance and carpentry skills.
A lifelong aversion to hard labor would preclude me from such accomplishments. My zenith moment in construction was assembling an IKEA desk in only three days even though the directions said 45 minutes.
Hearing the sound of power tools interspersed with their affectionate banter first drew me to Derrick and Robin. Once I met them, it was clear that my new neighbors were a genial, generous and, above all else, a vibrant couple.
When they completed their labor, they had a cozy little log house that will soon be their retirement home.
They chose Pocahontas County as a place to build their final home for the same reasons many of us non-natives did. Where else can you find such natural beauty, the opportunities for outdoor recreation, and the extraordinary sense of community?
Derrick and Robin currently live in Shady Springs. They met at Concord College when they were both students there. Robin was there on a basketball and softball scholarship and walked away with a teaching degree.
Derrick took classes in engineering and business management and currently works for Foster Construction Supplies. An avid outdoorsman, he also participated in team sports, including basketball, football and track.
“All through my youth, I was trained to be competitive,” Derrick said.
Let’s back up just a bit.
Note that the main title of this column contains the word “trout,” and this highly esteemed fish does play a role in this story; but, first, the French subtitle needs an explanation.
Joie de vivre means “the exuberant enjoyment of life.” This couple embraces life for all its worth. In fact, they have lived their lives well beyond the scope of a typical resume.
Robin realized, after a year of teaching, that spending her days in a classroom was too confining. Particularly for a high-energy woman who was soon to discover her latent aptitudes.
After serving as manager of a popular health club in Beckley for 13 years, Robin was turned on to deer hunting. Derrick had grown up hunting for food, while Robin, who had never even considered hunting, was more on the metropolitan side.
It didn’t take long before her wildcraft skills revealed themselves. To date, Robin has taken nine Pope and Young record bucks, all with a bow.
Derrick has always been supportive of Robin’s endeavors, even when she entered the field of racing. When he speaks of his wife’s accomplishments, Derrick doesn’t hold back on his pride and love for her. He is her greatest champion in every sense of the word.
Robin entered the field of racing in jet ski competition for Yamaha, never losing a race and winning numerous trophies. From jet skis, she moved on to racing Briggs Go Karts that reach speeds of 140 mph.
She began to get noticed by professional racers, and that opened the door to Sprint Car Racing. Robin won race after race. She was not deterred by the vocal displays of resentment from a few of the jealous male drivers.
Tough to the core, she ignored their jeers and kept right on racing.
Derrick, her anchor, was always by her side. She arrived at the Kentucky Bluegrass Nationals with a full-blown case of the flu. Despite her 103-degree temperature, Robin squeezed into the driver’s seat and went on to win another trophy.
This is where trout come into Derrick and Robin’s lives.
Derrick was familiar with Pocahontas County because his family has had camps along the Greenbrier River for many years. He loved the time he spent floating the river, hunting and hiking. Deciding to build his own home in our county had been in his mind for many years.
When the Sears purchased their land and started constructing their cabin, they continued to hunt. Racing, by this point, was well behind them.
Their interest in trout fishing was inspired by a trip to the State Trout Hatchery at Edray. Fascinated by the interesting operation of rearing these beautiful fish, the Sears learned that the trout are stocked in many of our local waters, including the Greenbrier River.
Derrick and Robin immediately recognized that trout fishing would be a new chapter in their lives. And they approached this activity with the same passion given to their previous pursuits.
The Sears are not fair-weather anglers. They do some wading, but most of their trout fishing is out of kayaks – and their boats are not stored in a shed for the winter. They fish various stretches of the Greenbrier when there is snow in the air and on the banks.
What is most notable about their fishing is their phenomenal success at limiting on trout.
They generally head out at first light to go fishing, often returning late in the day. I am amazed that they limit on the majority of their outings, even when other anglers are ending the day with empty creels.
I was curious as to the secret of these two “trout-whisperers.” So I asked them how they do it.
“It is important to read the water,” Derrick said. “Many people fish the deeper holes, but the trout that we catch are in the moving water; this is where they feed.”
“We don’t even stop and fish the holes,” Robin added. “We paddle right on to the areas of stronger current where there is structure that the trout can hide behind. When we spot what we call a “trouty” looking stretch of river, we often position our kayaks against a rock.
“From this stable position, we strategically fish the moving water, and we fish it hard. More often than not, we catch trout or at least get strikes.”
Derrick and Robin exemplify what I love about West Virginia. The words modesty, strength and character only begin to describe them. They are among the many exciting characters found here in Pocahontas County.
Perhaps we should all indulge in a little more “Joie de Vivre.”
Outtakes from the interview.
1. Shortly after they began dating, Derrick took Robin home to meet his mother. He emphasized to Robin that the Sears were country folk.
When they stepped out of the car after arriving at his mother’s house in Meadow Bridge, they heard a gunshot that sounded like it came from within the home. Robin, alarmed at the loud report, started to get back into the car.
With Derrick urging her on, they entered the house to find his mother holding a .270 rifle. The first words that Robin heard out of her future mother-in-law’s mouth were, “I got that fox that’s been killing my chickens.”
And, indeed, she did, right out of the bathroom window.
2. If you ever decide you want to write a piece about a married couple, listen up. Under no circumstance should you ask each spouse how they met – when they are not in the same room. I violated that little-known rule of journalism in this story. The result was two different responses; by that, I mean two entirely different stories.
When asked how he met Robin, Derrick said that it was at Concord University. He said he was attending a social affair, and Robin asked him to dance. On the other hand, Robin said that Derrick had followed her all over the campus until he finally got up the nerve to ask her out.
When I presented this discrepancy to Derrick, he thought a moment and wisely said, “We better go with Robin’s story.”