You can open the door to the outdoors

Published 8:36 am Thursday, May 8, 2008

A few short years ago I met a man who changed my outlook on life and hopefully he will yours here in the Miss-Lou.

This man is Kirk Thomas. We visited, talking hunting, fishing, outdoors and since have become what I would call very close friends, hopefully making a difference.

All people take for granted the difference they could make around the Miss-Lou, doing good for all walks of life and touching someone near and dear that may have a disability or maybe just be from a broken home.

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We take for granted getting out of bed every morning going to the 8 to 5 then saying we are tired at the end of the day, walking around, resting in the easy chair.

Now let’s twist it a bit, imagine like my new little buddy that calls me Uncle Jim Bob — Zach Culley in Sedallia, Mo. — does. A few Sundays ago he got his first Tom Turkey, a 20 pound bird with a great paintbrush of a beard. Did I mention he has had Spina Bifada since birth, a Wilm’s tumor on one of his kidneys and did chemotherapy?

I almost forgot the man upstairs also chose for it to snow snowflakes the size of quarters the morning that it would be Zach’s first time to shoot a shotgun. He also snagged for SpoonBill the days before on a Redneck Pontoon Boat at Lake of the Ozarks snagging a 36-pounder.

Did I mention this young chap is in a wheelchair? Take a few months ago. Three hundred youth descend on Fayetteville, Tenn., for Youth Deer Weekend. Around 100 deer harvested 60 plus bucks, but the brute and most important one was taken by young Aarron a terminal patient at St. Jude’s who sits in a Scooter Chair.

You may have seen back a few moons ago young Austin Dungan taking his first 5-point buck thanks to Rifle Point.

Did I mention that young Austin here from the Miss-Lou also has been to the Iowa Heart Institute three times since birth, and got his new — what I call LSU Camo’d — bionic leg courtesy from the fine guys at Ampucare, a great group from here in the Miss-Lou?

Kirk Thomas, co-founder and chief executive officer of Outdoors Without Limits, knows what it’s like to be knocked down by a disability.

On Nov. 27, 1992, Kirk was making his way back to his truck after a morning deer hunt. A falling tree struck the 6-foot-5-inch, 321-pound former college football player and hurled him into the air. When he regained consciousness, he was laying face up on the ground, his mouth filling with blood, with internal injuries and a shattered back. At 33, after months of hospitalization, operations and rehab, he was a T-12 paraplegic with no movement from the waist down.

After the accident and his first hunting season in a wheelchair, a new dream began to etch itself into Kirk’s mind. A renewed sense of purpose and his love of the outdoors led Thomas to create Wheelin’ Sportsman of America in September 1996. In October 2000, it became Wheelin’ Sportsman NWTF and he was involved with that until July 2007. His organizations have held in excess of 1,000 events and has helped in excess of 10,000 disabled.

People who live with disabilities are often reminded of their limitations. What if we could help turn that around, and remind them of what they are truly capable of?

Our recreational outreach program, Outdoors Without Limits, is leading a nationwide effort to pull together communities committed to help reduce the barriers that prevent disabled people from enjoying the great outdoors.

Together, we will help change stereotypes about what defines “ability.” And, through action, we build relationships that change spirits and lives.

Welcome to Outdoors Without Limits.

The Miss-Lou can make a difference. Our first Miss-Lou Outdoors Without Limits Chapter Banquet and Auction takes place May 15 at the Natchez Community Center.

Doors open at 5 p.m. There will be food, fun, fellowship, turkey calling and duck calling contests to crown a champ for a year. Sponsors can contact me at 601-597-6658 and Derrick Dungan at 601-870-2365.

Jim Bob Allgood is a volunteer for Outdoors Without Limits.