The outdoors has proven to be strong medicine that helps everyone become better physically, mentally, and socially.
Although Sam cannot speak, he verbalizes with a series of grunts and screams. His face tells you how he feels with a smile or a grimace. Today, with a fishing pole in hand, Sam is smiling. And every time he swings a trout out of the water and into a landing net, he screams at the top of his lungs with what we can only assume is joy. As he awkwardly grasps the fish with trembling arms, his wheelchair and shirt become spattered with fish slime. His mom and dad can only look on and smile.
Wisconsin's Challenge the Outdoors (CTO) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the recreational needs and desires of people like Sam, who have physical challenges. It was founded in 1998 by a group of outdoor enthusiasts, most of whom had physical disabilities. The early members shared a common bond with well over a million other Wisconsinites. They wanted to get back in the outdoors and realized it was important for mental, physical, and social well-being.
CTO focuses on recreational activities for people with physical disabilities in northeast Wisconsin, which is where most events take place.
Events include hunting for white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasants, wild turkey, and Canada geese. CTO has permission to use more than 3,000 acres of private land for a five-day Wisconsin deer hunt. A traditional deer camp is set up at a central location where the hunters can stay overnight, enjoy fantastic meals, and get together to tell stories about hunts from the past and present. Individuals who need assistance are paired with helpers and assigned to a previously established blind. Those who can go on their own are also assigned a particular hunt area. Similar events are organized for Canada geese and wild turkeys.
Making it Work
A T6 incomplete paraplegic, Steve was injured in a car accident about six years ago. On a rainy day last year, he and a friend were goose hunting next to a cornfield. A single bird came flying over, which Steve knocked down into the cornfield. Steve's friend looked for more than 45 minutes but could not find the goose. When the friend came up empty handed, Steve dropped out of his chair onto the ground and butted himself into the corn, checking row by row until he discovered his quarry. Muddied and bloody did not matter. What mattered is Steve did not give up or waste a future goose dinner.
Mark, 43, is quadriplegic following a diving accident 16 years ago. One day during turkey season, he couldn't find a volunteer to help him hunt so he took matters into his own curled hands. Mark was able to set up a pop-up tent a few yards from his vehicle and get inside. Not long after, he called in a turkey, and it went down with his first shot.
Mark and Steve were not content to become couch potatoes, so they took the steps necessary to get outdoors. CTO helps people enjoy what they may have only dreamed about in the past.
An elevated blind is operated with solar-powered batteries. This accessible device allows wheelchair users to go up to heights of 20 feet to enjoy a hunting technique traditionally reserved for able-bodied tree climbers. The blind has windows that can open on all four sides, and it can be heated during cold weather.
Fishing, whether at the CTO-sponsored stocked trout pond or using the CTO-owned pontoon boat on Shawano Lake to troll for trout, is a popular pastime.
The trout pond is stocked several times a summer for two organized day events. In addition, it is open for fishing every day of the summer and fall. Volunteers work to keep the grounds tidy and functional. This is where Sam comes to fish the most.
The 22-foot pontoon boat named Challenger is moored at a marina. Users call for a date and time and can take it out with their family and friends or request volunteer assistance.
Check out the complete article in the May 2011 issue of S'NS.