Today we have a guest blogger named Mat, who shares with us his amazing weekend in McAllen, Texas last week, accompanying his friend as part of Challenged Sportsmen of America, Inc.:
Almost 9 years ago, I became friends with a guy named Brian.
I met Brian through a mutual friend. A few of us were recently divorced, added to the fact that we all liked cold beer and cooking out, made for a group of friends that were always together. My first date with with my (now) wife was a night of karaoke with some of these guys. Brian and I had a special connection. He was always a calm, level kind of guy that operated on logic and wisdom. Many late nights talking over a cold beer happened between he and I. He is my brother, and he always will be.
The last time this group of guys and I hunted together was 3 years ago this month on the Breckenridge lease. Later that year, Brian was found to have a cyst on his cerebral cortex that had to be removed. What was supposed to be a simple procedure, ended up inducing a stroke and changing Brian’s life. He and his wife, Mary, both have daughters, and they had just had their son. The obstacles and trials for this family had just begun. The last three years have been filled with tears, triumphs, therapy, treatments and milestones.
Fast forward to this year. On one of their many flights, Mary and Brian met a guy named Chad. Chad became a paraplegic after an automobile accident when he was 19 years old. I don’t know all the details, but at some point, Chad told Mary about Challenged Sportsmen of America, Inc. and the work they do for Sportsmen/women to get them back into the field and on the water, doing what they enjoyed. A couple of months ago, Mary contacted me and told me about the CSA Wing & Water weekend and asked me if I would be willing to accompany Brian for the weekend. Obviously, my answer was a YES!
Last Friday morning, I drove to the McAllen airport to pick up Brian and begin our weekend with CSA. Neither of us really knew what to expect. We were the “newbies” this year–Brian as the challenged sportsman, I as his able body (AB). We knew we would hunt and fish and have aids and opportunities specifically for people in Brian’s position, but we didn’t really know more than that.
We soon learned that we were entering a family of some of the most amazing people on the planet. Not just the challenged individuals, but also the volunteers and donors to this organization. We got some of the best dove hunting I have ever seen, incredible food and wholesome fellowship.
This group includes those with various types of limitations , as well as volunteers who give up 3 days of their lives to make a difference for someone and experiences that words can’t even describe.
This is Cody, a blind man, who was a former body building coach who lost his vision, but didn’t let it stop him. One of his former students was his AB, and they had devised an intricate system of verbal commands combined with touch to get him on to targets that he can’t even see. I got the opportunity to visit with this man quite a bit. He didn’t even flinch when I approached and asked, “So exactly HOW do you dove hunt?” He was one of the happiest, most genuine people I have ever encountered.
I overheard him talking to someone else as he was telling them his secrets to life:
1) No whining or complaining, EVER.
2) Spend at least 5 minutes per day focusing on God.
3) Spend at least 5 minutes per day giving undivided attention to someone else.
4) Spend at least 5 minutes per day giving undivided attention to yourself.
Seems simple, yet I know I don’t meet this goal every day. During the skeet shoot, he busted 3 clays and continued to shoot a handful of dove over the weekend. No excuses, no whining.
This incredible guy has lived with birth defects that make simple tasks impossible for the average person. He doesn’t have hands like you and I. At the end of his arms are flesh that no way resembles hands. The same condition affected his legs, causing him to require prosthetic legs. If the fact that he retrofitted his shotgun to enable him to hold onto it and function it wasn’t enough, the fact that he built a T-bucket street rod and holds an active pilot’s license should impress all of us. He is heading up a new division of his company, called enabled.org, which puts challenged and disabled people in contact with companies and their products that make major differences in how they do things- from sporting goods to daily life essentials. My company, Round 2, will be working with him in the near future on a couple of projects, and I am excited. It makes me think of my own training and students….after what I’ve been privileged to witness, there really are NO excuses!
Most importantly, Brian was smiling. It was a long weekend, full of activities. He tired and over-stimulated quickly, and the responsibility of making sure he was taken care of and comfortable was tiring for me as well. I got a taste of what his wife does on a daily basis, and I gained new respect for her. She admitted, “This road has been hard , long , and accompanied with many challenges, not only for Brian, but also for ALL that have lived him. I couldn’t have ever said “I do” without loving him unconditionally . He is my Rock- and our journey is filled with God’s gracious love, and I look forward to what will continue to unfold for our journey.”
I saw firsthand how simple tasks that I regularly take for granted are much more taxing on him, and I gained new respect for him and his strength. Not only did we get to hunt together again, but we got to share even more. We got to laugh together again as “the guys” for the first time in 3 years. We got to hang out and sip a cold beer together, go hunting, go fishing and share memories. Brian has come a long way, and he is still moving. Parts of his memory are cloudy and missing pieces. On Saturday, he asked me when I was going to tie the knot with my wife. When I told him we were already married and reminded him that he was drunk at our reception and eating the flowers off the cake, the memory came back and he was able to fill in the gaps. We filled in a lot of gaps this last weekend, and it was good. I freaking love that guy.
No less important are the countless volunteers and donors to this organization. Aside from actually getting to McAllen, participants are given an all expenses-covered weekend. All meals, lodging and activities are free of charge. Even ammo for the hunt and drinks/snacks are provided. This is all made possible by generous donors who care enough to get challenged and disabled sportsman back in the field. Every need was provided and any special needs were addressed by a top notch committee that has been making this event successful for 18 years and counting.
Everyone who attended won something during the weekend. Prizes, gifts, raffles–everyone was a winner. Brian was the lucky winner of a 150-160 class whitetail cull buck hunt on the Shipp Ranch near Laredo (His super lucky AB gets to go with him!). This is a once-in-a-lifetime trophy hunt by most of our standards- all expenses paid. Several other hunts were given away, along with a multitude of prizes.
I have committed to making this an annual tradition for Brian and me, and I am already excited for next year. I have also committed to being a part of this amazing organization through donation, fundraising and volunteering. In the event that Brian couldn’t make it one year for whatever reason, I’ll be there as a volunteer. I have never met a more genuine, down-to-earth group of people who treat each other better than family and refuse to accept limitations and let anything hold them back.