Andy arrived on the 17th of August and left yesterday around noon to fly back to Salt Lake City. Our week together is very special to me. He is much more involved with the disabled community than I am. He is much more outgoing and gregarious than me. Many of those who know me would be surprised by the fact that basically I am quiet, shy and retiring. Having been an educator for over 34 years I am at ease speaking and interacting with groups, but on a personal level I tend to limit myself to a few close friends none of whom are disabled. Andy’s visit is much more unique for me than I believe it is for him. Since we share the same injury level, a very similar outlook on our situation and the love of all things outdoors we are closely bound together.
We always do some different things while Andy is here. This year he went with me to the Outdoor Adventure Day at Fort Drum (the home of the 10th Mountain division) where we manned a booth for Handihelp which displayed many of the adaptive equipment we have made and a lot of pictures of what those adaptions have allowed us to do. It’s always enjoyable to speak with the people who stop by and have questions about our lifestyle and things we’ve done.
With Smokey the Bear at Ft. Drum
One thing we do every year when Andy comes is participate in the Annual Quadriplegic Fishing Derby. In reality, it’s just Andy and me going fishing with our friend Dean of Dean Meckes Charters
and my buddy Steve Robinson or my son Mark. We caught a few fish, but that’s not the real reason we go. The time spent on the beautiful St. Lawrence River and the solitude of being out there is irreplaceable. The other annual happening is our visit with our friends Maia, Maddy, and Tonya Chamberlain for ice cream. It’s a chance for Andy to spend some time with Maia.
Andy with a bass
The most meaningful part of Andy’s visit for me is not the activities that we do, but rather the downtime at home when we can just talk about our situation, lifestyle and the mental and physical challenges we must deal with. This is the only time that I get to talk with someone who truly understands the ramifications of the challenges I face. While I do talk to my friends and my wife Marge at times, no one understands all the nuances that go along with being a quadriplegic. So, the time Andy’s here is like no other.
Andy comes to northern New York because it is much “easier” for him to travel than it is for me. However, we have begun discussing the possibility of my going to Utah and spending a week with Andy and his friends. The idea of it is very seductive.
Finally, I would like to thank Marge for her role in making this week possible and the others who helped make this week so special.
Andy, Maia and me
Posted in Ability, Attitude, Community Inclusion, Disability, Education, Fishing, Friends, Friendship, Nature, Reality, Recreation
Tagged fishing, Lake Ontario, lifestyle, natural environment, outdoors, physically challenged, quadriplegia, Recreation, relationship
At Craig Hospital, where I did my rehabilitation, they talked about how people would react to me, post injury. They said there would be former friends who would fade out of my life and others who would step up and assume a much more significant role. I didn’t realize at the time how true that would be. While some have virtually disappeared, several people have assumed a significantly greater role and others who I barely knew or didn’t know at all have helped facilitate the return of my quality of life. As a C6 quadriplegic my life is one of dependency. I may like to kid myself into believing I have a lot of independence, but the truth is I don’t. I’m dependent on others for my food, hygiene, dressing, even getting into and out of my wheelchair. My wife Marge and my nurses Rhonda, Char and Kelli see to those needs and at times do much more.
Me in the old days
One person, in particular, has really stepped up. He is not the only one, but Steve Robinson, a former coworker has stepped up like no other. Steve takes me hunting, to lacrosse games and does so much more. What would my life be like without friends like him I can’t imagine? Thankfully, I don’t have to.
Does Steve realize the important role he plays in my life? Does he understand what my life would be like without his unselfish generosity? Does he have any concept how impossible it is to find the words to help him to understand how much his stepping up affects my quality of life?
Steve with Andy and me at Blue Mountain Museum
Steve and I dog sledding
Now I have a chance to do something for him. Steve and I worked together on the school’s outdoor adventure course. On September 17th the Northern New York United Way is having a fundraiser called Over the Edge. Steve is going over the edge. Steve wrote “Over 20 years ago a good friend and a former South Jefferson colleague introduced me to the power and excitement of a ropes course. I know that if he could, he would have been one of the first to sign up for this United Way fundraiser. I will be doing the rappel in recognition of my friend and mentor.”
I would like to take this opportunity to ask my friends, if possible to consider making a donation to Steve effort. If so you can go to Steve’s Home Page to donate. Thanks to Steve and all of you.
Celebrating Steve’s retirement with my first beer in over 25 years
Posted in Attitude, Behavior, Birds, Disability, Education, Friends, Friendship, Love, Reality, Recreation, Sensitivity
Tagged life lesson, outdoors, physically challenged, quadriplegia, Recreation, relationship
This is the title of the new book written by Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper. This morning they were on Live with Kelly and Michael. I thought the book title was an amazing metaphor for life. Years ago I wrote a blog called Talks Cheap – Test Time, which was about my struggle between positive attitude and depression / suicide. At the time, my blog was being carried by a website in Australia. They refused to publish it because not only did it talk about suicide, but it also mentioned some ways I thought about doing it. They felt it was a bad idea to share this with their readers. I argued with them that it is important for others to know that they are not alone in their struggles for a meaningful life and that life is full of challenges. They still refused, so we parted company.
I believe it is difficult for most able-bodied people to understand the roller coaster of emotions many individuals with disabilities go through on a daily basis. When I am with others, regardless how bad I feel, I am always able to project the image of one who is in control and well-adjusted to my situation. But, like the rainbow that comes and goes, when I am alone, or just Marge, at times the frustrations just seem to be overwhelming. It’s difficult to reach out to others because of their lack of understanding or I don’t want to project the image of one who is struggling to cope.
Many factors prove to be a continuing struggle which is often difficult to handle. Some of the frustrations are the same that were present prior to my injury, but the coping mechanisms I used are no longer available. When I was younger and getting “hyper” my kids would say “Dad, you need a physical fix”. I could go jogging, biking, kayaking or hop in my truck and drive up into the state forest land by myself. None of those are options anymore. The spontaneity is almost completely absent from my life. Plus, there are now new factors that compound the old ones. Weather is one, health and fitness for a couple of others. Even though I was sequestered most of the winter and it’s now April I’m still housebound. Part of my frustration right now is that it’s sunny and absolutely beautiful out, but the wind chill the last few days has been in the middle teens and this pattern is supposed to continue. Add to this the almost constant nagging health issues that happens to be present most of the time or that I’m unable to get my weight under control and you end up with a situation that seems almost overwhelming. At times like this, it’s almost impossible for me to motivate myself to do anything. The thing I want to do the most is to be out in the natural environment and that’s almost impossible. People have suggested going shopping or out to eat or to the movies, but none of these are what I really want to be doing or need to do to quiet the demons.
This blog is one attempt to relieve some of my frustrations. Knowing that there are others who will read this and understand what I am saying is comforting. To know there are some who will read it and say, “Oh, I’m not the only one struggling with these issues” also makes me feel better. After all, we must remember that the rainbow comes and goes!
Posted in Ability, Attitude, Behavior, Community Inclusion, Disability, Education, Friends, Friendship, Nature, Observation, Reality, Sensitivity, Stuggling
Tagged depression, natural environment, outdoors, physically challenged, quadriplegia, using your mind
For an outdoors-man who becomes disabled and ultimately wheelchair-bound the struggle to regain quality-of-life can be overwhelming. New skills must be developed, in spite of compromised abilities, in order to return to the lifestyle they love. But, while daunting, the development of new skills to replace the old ones lost is within their grasp if they persevere and refuse to accept failure as an outcome.
The higher the level of injury the greater the challenge. We are just beginning to see the development of new types of recreational wheelchairs, both manual and power, being developed for those who want to return to the outdoor life. Four-wheel-drive and track wheelchairs are becoming more widely available. However, in spite of these changes, especially with an activity like hunting, chances of returning to the solitary hunting lifestyle will be nearly impossible.
Even with these new, highly specialized chairs there is still the need for additional help from other able-bodied individuals. In order to hunt, an individual in a chair will also need some type of support system. For many individuals who become disabled the loss of self-sufficiency and self-reliance is one of the most difficult issues for them to face, which makes asking for help difficult.
Hunting requirements are very different depending on the region of the United States. Prior to my accident, I hunted in many states along the East Coast. Shots are rarely taken over 150 yards and in most areas you’re never far from civilization. While I have never hunted west of the Mississippi River I’ve received quite a bit of information from my friend Andy Dahmen, who lives in Utah, and has also hunted in Idaho and Wyoming. This fall he shot a bull elk that was over 560 yards away. The distance of the shots, the vast amounts of terrain that must be covered and the size of the animals harvested all demand a greater support system for a hunter out West. In the East you can usually get by with a friend or two, but out West is a different story.
Russian Boar harvested in Idaho
Hunting out West for an individual who is in a wheelchair requires a number of able-bodied individuals to assist. Fortunately, there are people who understand and have formed volunteer organizations to assist the disabled. One of these groups the Utah chapter of Chairbound Hunters
is titled Chairbound Sportsman
. I have taken their Mission statement verbatim off their website so you can understand what these individuals are trying to do.
“We create hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities for wheelchair bound individuals and Disabled Veterans. Outdoor Activities are hard enough, but retrieving game, is next to impossible. With our volunteers, we can help with the hard stuff and make their outings a success. Our Goal is to offer experiences to those that thought they could never get into the outdoors again. Volunteers, Landowners and Sponsors are Critical to our success.”
Getting Ready to Roll
It is difficult for many individuals to understand what their kindness and thoughtfulness means to the participant. Without the support from others, many in the disabled community would be unable to participate in the activities that provide for our quality of life. Handihelp does not accept advertisement on the website. I would, however, recommend either volunteering or make a donation to keep organizations like these functioning.
Posted in Ability, Adapting Equipment, Adaptive Technology, Attitude, Behavior, Community Inclusion, Determination, Disability, Fishing, Friends, Friendship, Hunting, Nature, Reality, Recreation, Sensitivity, Wounded Warriors
Tagged adapting, hunting, life lesson, lifestyle, natural environment, outdoors, physically challenged, quadriplegia, Recreation
I’m always looking for something different to do that will get me outside this time of year. The last couple years I went for a dog sled ride, but was hoping to do something different this winter. Imagine my surprise when two neighbors invited me to go ice fishing. I was excited not only for doing something different, but it also gave me the opportunity to work on adapting the equipment I would need to be successful. I’ve gotten to the point where I really enjoy the challenge of how to adapt the equipment so that I can use it. Add to this the anticipation of being outdoors in this weather as well as looking forward to a challenge.
Sunday, January 31 was the day. They went early and set everything up and then my son Mark drove to Lake of the Isles where we were going to fish. My Extreme X8 handled the ice really well. When we got there Tom and John helped set up my pole and get me started. Even though the temperature was around 42 there was a stiff breeze. We set up outside and fished for a while. After I caught some perch we decided to go in the ice hut where there was a heater. We also fished in the tent. Inside the tent you could see all the way to the bottom 10’-12’ down and watch the fish swim around.
Got a Bite
What a great day! Spending time with friends, who love the out-of-doors as much as I do, is awesome. Add to that the sense of the peace, quiet and serenity and it was unreal, especially in the tent. I’m a lucky man!
Out on the Ice
Posted in Ability, Adapting Equipment, Adaptive Technology, Attitude, Behavior, Community Inclusion, Disability, Fishing, Friends, Nature, Reality, Recreation, Sensitivity
Tagged adapting, fishing, inexpensive solution, Lake Ontario, life lesson, lifestyle, natural environment, outdoors, physically challenged, quadriplegia, Recreation, using your mind
My sister, who lives in Bismarck, North Dakota, usually visits a couple times a year. She is the one that coined the term LBJs. LBJs, according to my sister, stands for Little Brown Jobs. A generic term she uses for almost any bird, but the ones that seem to fit her description the best are the sparrows that live around our house. I’ve talked before about the efforts we have made to encourage wildlife to frequent the area around our home. We spend a lot on bird food, but consider it an entertainment expense since we enjoy seeing the birds year-round. With the exception of the male cardinals and the blue jays most of the more colorful birds head south to avoid the cold temperatures and food shortages that accompany winter. A major exception to this rule is the sparrows.
We have placed a post with several feeding stations right outside the window in front of my computer. A number of times during the day the LBJs provide me with amusement and continuing respect for nature. I think there must be close to 30 or 40 living in the evergreen bushes which line the front of our home. If we open the door to go out they fly away and perch on the roof gutter, the peak of the roof or quite often the railing along the side of the ramp leading to our front door which explains the pile of guano underneath the railing. I so enjoyed them. If they become alarmed while perched the entire flock will dive into the evergreen bushes and disappear. While they are at the feeders, they fuss and squabble over positioning at the various stations. There are always some flying in and some flying out. What a joy to have such a simple pleasure in my everyday life. Rain or shine, summer or winter I look forward to seeing them every morning when I arrive at my computer.
Posted in Ability, Attitude, Behavior, Birds, Community Inclusion, Education, Nature, Personal Safety, Reality, Recreation, Sensitivity
Tagged control, life lesson, natural environment, outdoors, Recreation, using your mind
A vast majority of animal-rights activists, anti-hunters and others who have never hunted probably believe that most hunters just want to kill an animal. A better term to use instead of kill would be harvest. Harvest is a term usually used to refer to crops. Species, like crops, because of man altering the natural environment, must also be managed to ensure their growth and survival. One very common misconception is that nature is benevolent and always provides what is best for the animals. Nature, like so many other things in the natural world, is comprised of yin and yang and can be unbelievably cruel and heartless. It is really wrong to give Nature human characteristics. It’s really just a force of the natural world. Prior to my accident, I snowshoed into several deer yards and saw a fair number of deer, mostly fawns and yearlings, which had died a painful and cruel death from starvation. What’s best for the game population is now determined by a state’s Environmental Conservation Department and many factors influence the rules and regulations. However, I don’t believe most hunters hunt just to harvest game.
After struggling for 11 years trying to compensate for all the challenges placed on me by quadriplegia and hunting from a wheelchair, I was finally able to harvest a turkey. Since then I have been fortunate enough to harvest 4 more turkeys in the last 5 years. This Spring I have hunted more than I ever have since my accident. The hunting season ended Sunday on a rainy day. I last got out Saturday and didn’t see a turkey, but did have a hummingbird come to the honeysuckle I was sitting in and was about a foot from my face. That was pretty cool, but I would have rather seen a turkey. As a matter of fact, I did not see a turkey the entire month of May.
What I would like to do is explain some of the reasons why so many hunt. The challenge of matching your skills and abilities against a wild animal is stimulating, exciting, frustrating and rewarding. To the turkeys I’m just another predator; it is irrelevant I’m in a wheelchair or that I use my mouth to fire my gun. The most mail I receive on Handihelp are from individuals recently disabled asking questions about affordable adaptions available which will help enable them to return to hunting and fishing that is such an important part of who they are. One email writer, Randy, summed it up better than I ever could:
“Before the accident, I spent a lot of time in the outdoors; camping, fishing, hunting. It’s where my heart lived. I never felt more alive than when I was out there and testing myself. I know you understand. It wasn’t just being out there. It was being out there the way I wanted to be out there — with me doing the work. Testing my skills and knowledge both with and against nature. I know you understand that part as well. Losing that part of me in the accident felt like losing a quintessential part of who I was. I tried going back into the woods, but it didn’t feel the
same. I couldn’t recapture that ‘feeling.'”
Many feel a connection with nature during the time spend hunting and fishing. Often, as you can see below, nature chooses to share some special moments with those who are spending so much time in the out of doors. The enjoyment I get sitting in a blind is many fold. There is an intensity in my mind that prohibits thoughts of the stressors common in everyday life. Any second I feel the game will come into view and I must be ready. After a few hours of this the intensity wanes, I find myself struggling between nodding off and remaining alert. The whole time there is a serenity that is present which is difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time in the natural environment. Many hunters live for moments like these.
Some very generous friends have given me a GoPro camera, which is specifically designed to capture dramatic moments in the out of doors. I believe many individuals who have disabilities are encouraged to challenge their perceived limitations when they can visibly see what others with similar disabilities are doing. There is a plethora of videos on Handihelp for that specific reason. This hunting season I’ve had the GoPro attached to the cradle that holds my gun with the expectation I would be able to capture some turkeys on film. Unfortunately, the turkeys did not cooperate. However, there have still been very exceptional moments. Included are two of them that I was able to capture when nature treated me to very special occurrences. The one shows two of the three deer that came into the field about 30 yards away from me. The second and by far the most unique is one of a beautiful blonde coyote, which passed within 25 yards of my blind. These are more dramatic examples of the benefits of sitting in a blind for hours at a time. Less dramatic, but by no means less striking, are watching the shadows of clouds racing across the field to where you are sitting, or in the fall, watching leaves spiraling down in the wind while sunlight flashes off one side of them as they spin to the ground. Believing at one time these moments were gone forever, I now treasure every day I’m in the natural environment.
Posted in Adapting Equipment, Adaptive Technology, Attitude, Behavior, Determination, Disability, Hunting, Love, Reality, Recreation, Sensitivity
Tagged adapting, control, Environmental Conservation Department, hunting, life lesson, lifestyle, natural environment, nature, outdoors, physically challenged, power wheelchair, quadriplegia, Recreation, turkey, using your mind