My story, Still in the Game
It's been several years since I've put together my story so, it took more serious thought than I expected. I do my best pondering in the woods so I'll head out to a little strip of high ground between myfood plot and pond. That's where I'll begin my tale...
As I absorbed the peace that is so often my companion when I'm in the outdoors, my thoughts turned to the road I've traveled to get to this point in my life. A person never knows which way the path will lead. We encounter many forks along the way, some of which lead to good stuff, some bad. Either way we live, learn, and move forward. Sometimes the path is smooth but often it's just plain rough and feels uphill all the way.
My son and I fishing
Finding out you have a serious illness makes a pretty nasty bump in the road. Living with the progression of that illness is rough. When we are faced with something like that, a person has two choices. We can either give up and crawl under a rock or we can play the hand we are dealt. I choose to play.
My struggle with a physical disability started in 1996 when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. My world was shaken. Suddenly my future was uncertain. I was 31 years old with a growing family and a solid career path teaching and counseling that I truly enjoyed. Thinking back, there really was no choice. It simply needed to be faced and that was that. My wife Leann and I waged a silent battle against the disease for some reason not wanting to burden any family or friends unless we absolutely needed to. That time came all too soon and by 2004, I could no longer function well enough in my job and needed to go on disability. My mind was fine but I was down to one usable leg and one arm. Combine that with dizziness and fatigue and I wasn't doing my students much good anymore.
Going on disability felt like giving in but there were no other options. Thankfully I had some time to prepare things so I could still be in the woods and not trapped in the house! Still I needed some serious soul searching to find a new direction. I began to help Steve, a buddy of mine who worked for Babe Winkelman Productions. Babe helped me get started with voice recognition software and I communicated with folks calling in looking for information about hunting and fishing opportunities around the world. I would put them in touch with outfitters who could offer the services they were looking for. Interesting work and I met lots of great people but I knew it wasn't the direction I was meant for.
My first deer from a wheelchair
I was visiting with Steve
and he made an interesting suggestion. He said that since I was already researching
ways to stay in the woods or on the water maybe I should use my computer knowledge
and find a way to share that information with others. I asked him to tell
me more and he suggested I build a website to share some of my information.
He said "you can't do things the way you used to but what you do is a
far cry from sitting on the couch watching hunting shows and wishing"
At that time, information about the outdoors for someone with a disability was all but impossible to find. My wife and I sat down together and figured out how to put the information I had gathered for myself in a format that others could use. It wasn't long before we had a small working website named afarcry.info with some basic tips and tricks I had found to be useful. One thing led to another and the site grew almost faster than I could keep up. I'd research things and talk with outfitters during the day and my wife would get home from work and we would add them to the site. Soon it was all I could do to keep up with the calls and e-mails but I was loving it. I had a direction and was doing some good!
Meanwhile, MS was taking its toll on my body. I kept losing ground and wasn't far from being bedridden when the drug Tysabri became available. It was risky because the main side effect was death but the alternative was spending the rest of my life in bed. I couldn't do that as long as there was any option at all. I took the chance and never looked back. So far so good and it's been about six years as I write this story.
My son and I turkey hunting
As always, there are good days and bad days. I always used to tell people that I would hunt as long as I can pull the trigger. When that day came and my hand could no longer squeeze hard enough, it hit me hard. I came back to the house feeling about as sorry for myself as was possible. Imagine how pleased I was when I got my first sip and puff trigger and could do it with my mouth! It's been six seasons now in which I harvested my deer without lifting my hands from my armrests.
That gives you an idea where I'm at. I am a quadriplegic so things are different than they were when I was able bodied but I've become so much more than I ever was before. I can't walk but I can and do have a positive impact on so many people. I firmly believe the quote "that which does not kill us only serves to make us stronger". What happened to me could happen to anybody. Whether it be an accident, illness, or other catastrophe, the issue is not what happens to us but what we do with it. If you are new to the game, come on in, and we'll make the most of life together!
turkey from a wheelchair
I blinked and somehow more than ten years have passed since I wrote chapter one of my story and it's time to update things. My original intention was to add a few paragraphs to bring the story up to date. However, there have been so many changes and so much water under the bridge that I cannot bring myself to modify the honest feelings I wrote in that story. I will have to simply sit down and write chapter 2 to bring my readers up to date. While I truly appreciate your attention and your patience when I become long-winded, I will do my best to keep this as brief as I am able. I can certainly understand the difficulties faced by directors when they try to portray a good book during an acceptable runtime for a movie.
Overlooking the Chagress River in Panama
Tysabri kept my MS under control for another year and a half after the end of chapter 1. My worst fears were realized when the side effect of death suddenly became imminent. With only a year to live, I was forced to expand my search for a cure beyond our borders. My family, my friends, and the whole hunting community came together to send us on a trip to Panama for a life-changing stem cell transplant. That brought into my life an unforgettable year of miraculous improvements to my abilities. Among the changes were things like motion returning to my right arm that had not moved in seventeen years, improvements in vision, thinking, and the list goes on and on but that's another story. Suffice it to say that the changes were awesome in a disease that allows for no improvement.
Shooting from my standing frame
As the positive changes happened, there were several changes in my family dynamics and I found myself divorced and living on my own dependent upon a team of caregivers working hard to keep me in my home. Just a few years after the successful procedure, I once again got very sick. My kids traveled home to stay by my side during the terrible life-and-death struggle with Guillain-Barre. For weeks, I lay in a hospital bed without vision and struggling to communicate through lips that were paralyzed. Thankfully that storm finally passed and I began to focus once again on my struggles with MS. We traveled once again to Panama for another stem cell transplant with the hope it would counter the effects of the Guillain-Barré. My second treatment brought a new set of exciting changes to my life. My body's ability to control its own temperature returned to normal and my strength and mental clarity improved dramatically.
Fishing boats in Panama are not easily accessible
Throughout the roller coaster ride that has become my life, I learned to do my best to keep up the good fight and to enjoy the blessings that come along as part of every day. My little girl is all grown up now but she travels home from Washington to spend every deer season with her dad. That gives me some of the finest moments life has to offer throughout the year. I still shoot with my faithful mouth control for both crossbow and gun. I have found it is more than just possible for a quadriplegic to consistently harvest nice whitetails, turkeys, pheasants, and even to catch some pretty great fish. I manage my own team of caregivers and lead a happy and fulfilling life still trying to leave world a little better then I found it.
My daughter and I in the deer stand
I am most defiantly still in the game. If you are as well, give me a shout. I love to hear and maybe share your story. If disability is affecting your ability to enjoy the outdoors, give me a shout. I'd love to help.