Fishing for a cause: Dean Wu raises money for allergy research through fishing tournament

STORY BY NATALIE ARBATMAN AND CARLY HELTZEL, PHOTOS COURTESY DEAN WU

Who loves food allergies? Not Dean Wu. Who loves bass kayak fishing? Dean Wu. 

Wu, a sophomore at Crystal Springs Uplands School, raised $8,275 for food allergy research by hosting a bass kayak fishing tournament on Oct. 30 on Clear Lake, a known fishing locale just south of Mendocino National Forest. All entry fees and donations went to Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University. 

Wu was inspired to organize this fundraiser by his own struggle with extreme dairy and nut allergies, unable to eat anything that touched those products. 

“I couldn’t even travel … even if someone had a peanut butter jelly sandwich and then touched an airplane seatbelt, and then I touched it and then ate food, I would still have an allergic reaction,” Wu said. 

According to Wu, he could never eat out at restaurants, but his allergies greatly subsided after participating in a clinical trial at the center. Although he still can’t eat dairy or nuts, he is far less limited in what he can eat. 

“There’s a huge difference between how sensitive I was to my allergies previously compared to [how sensitive] I am now,” Wu said.

Wu attributes his progress entirely to the clinical trial at the center and, wanting to give back to the organization, he decided he would fundraise to their benefit — with his other passion: bass fishing.

“Because I have the resources to give back to the center, I feel like I should,” Wu said. “I think many people who aren’t able to afford this type of care, by organizing this tournament I can give them the chance to have all the benefits that I had from the trial.”

When he first reached out to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, his fundraising goal was $3,000, less than half of what he ended up raising, said Community Relations Program Manager Caitlin Charlton.

Charlton said she admires how Wu “combined his passion” for fishing and giving back to create such a meaningful event.

“Oftentimes we have community members come to us with no idea how to help, but Dean came to us with the fully formed idea,” Charlton said. “He knew right away that he wanted to host a fishing tournament for allergy research.”

The eager fisher began planning the event in 2019, but its original date was postponed due to COVID-19. Wu finally held it this year on Oct. 30. 

“Dean has been wonderful to work with,” Charlton said. “He’s a really hard worker and I know his story will be able to help inspire other youth and community members to give back to our hospital as well.”

Wu’s first step in organizing the event was drafting letters to send to potential sponsors: both small fishing stores such as River2Sea for equipment donations and larger corporations like Safeway for lunch donations. 

In the letter, Wu detailed his experiences with food allergies and explained the tournament funds would be donated to Stanford’s allergy research. He said he was encouraged to continue sending emails and letters — despite often having to wait for months for a response — because of River2Sea, the first organization to respond and offer to donate. 

In the end, a variety of fishing and sporting companies such as American Fishing Tackle Company and Northwest River Supplies provided Wu with equipment to auction off and to use at the tournament. Other companies such as YumEarth, which makes food for people with food allergies, donated lunch and prizes as well. 

“[I wanted to] expose people to these types of [allergy-friendly] brands,” Wu said. “Some people who attended the tournament have kids with food allergies, aso it’s great for those people to find safe companies for their kids to have a snack.”

Wu spent countless hours reaching out to friends and people in the fishing community to drum up interest in his fishing competition and 35 anglers participated.

“Those 35 anglers aren’t just his friends that are the same age as him, a lot of these are adults that are big time fishermen that have YouTube channels about fishing and attended his event,” Charlton said. “He really brought in his reach to this larger fishing community to get them involved in giving back.”

Wu said one of several well-known fishers who attended the tournament was Greg Blanchard, one of the most recognized kayak anglers who has over 100,000 followers on his fishing channel on YouTube. 

Wu initially got involved in fishing because of his dad, Wu has been a part of the fishing community since 2017. He said he loves fishing because of the excitement it brings.

“[The fish] are eating something new or the water temperature is different or maybe the wind picked up and it’s a lot harder [to find fish] in certain areas,” Wu said. “Each day is a challenge in its own way.”

Wu said each day he fishes he feels like he has “accomplished something that’s unique.” Lighting up as he rambles about the intricacies of fishing, Wu also said he appreciates the peaceful nature of the activity. 

“You’re very exposed to nature because there aren’t that many large buildings around the water,” Wu said. “It all looks untouched by civilization.”

The Sean N. Parker Center is currently conducting 7 clinical trials to further allergy research, and the Lucile Packard Foundation is the sole fundraising entity for the pediatric and maternal health research programs at the school of medicine at Stanford University.

“[The fundraiser] is going to have such a great impact on allergy research, so we are so grateful for all that he did,” Charlton said. “Clearly, he has an incredible support system and community surrounding him to help him far surpass his goal.”

Wu plans on making the tournament an annual event. 

“Just thinking about someone who could receive the care that I did but can’t afford it or the care isn’t accurate enough for their needs, makes me feel so upset,” Wu said. “Being able to make that small difference to help people who aren’t able to receive this type of care just makes me feel so proud.”

To learn more about Wu’s tournament, visit the official website for the tournament: https://www.foodallergybasstournament.com/ 

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