Freedom Re-Discovered on the Mountain- WWO Adventures Enabled
We are blessed with the freedom climb to the tops of the highest mountains, to experience the thrill of the hunt while taking in the splendor of the good Lord’s perfect paintbrush; the awe inspiring landscapes of wild places. These freedoms have not been granted to us without a tremendous amount of sacrifice paid in full by our brave servicemen and women that have given a vow made out in the amount of their own life to protect that very freedom. So many sacrifices have been made by others on our behalf, so much to be grateful and thankful for.
The recent release of the movie, American Sniper detailing the life story of the United States most lethal sniper in history, Chris Kyle, has brought a tremendous amount of much needed attention to our servicemen and women. Chris’s story and his legacy is reaching audiences that are record breaking. The blanket of protection that he provided can literally be felt by the entire world. Chris lived his life serving from the battlefield to our homeland.
Chris is not alone in his service, there are many warriors that are heroes among us, and many of those that are in need of the powerful healing that only Mother Nature can provide. Giving back is what this life is all about and taking the opportunity to give back to those who have served, fought and bled to protect our freedoms is something that I do not take lightly, nor should you.
Over the past few years, I have been blessed with personally witnessing miracles on the mountain with participants in the Wounded Warrior Outdoors, Adventures Enabled Program. As a 501-C3, WWO puts 95 cents of every dollar donated towards the therapeutic benefit of currently wounded, in-hospital treatment servicemen and women. Some injuries are evident and some are invisible.
On the mountain, there is something magical that happens when you are there. As outdoorsmen, we can all attest to the spiritual and emotional restoration that comes from being in wild places and the brotherhood like bond that is forged amongst friends and family in the field.
Participants, are given an opportunity to get away from the sounds, smells and sterile hospital environment, from the repetition of therapy to a life that is vastly different. Over ¾ of the participants in the WWO program have never hunted or had the opportunity to take in the sound of the early morning breeze whispering through the trees, feeling the warm rays of sunshine erase the chill from the air, watch wildlife making their way to their bedding area for the day, the mountains provide an adventure that is not only memorable, but life changing.
Time spent on the mountain, pressing oneself to go beyond what was once thought possible, breaking any preconceived physical or mental limitations, doing things that one may have never before dreamed of doing. The mountain makes a person want to work harder, fight longer, even to the point of exhaustion, but at the end of the trail there is the triumph that one has risen to the challenge and owned the mountain. As hunters, we can all relate to this triumph and the confidence that is actualized in that life changing moment. In these times, the brotherhood bond that warriors experience in service is replicated within the fellowship of the hunt.
In the hospital, many warriors find themselves on a repetitious schedule of therapy in a very accessible environment that offers a limited amount of challenges. The hospitals make their warrior selections based on individuals that will benefit from an environment like the mountain and camp life that do not offer the typical aids like elevators or wheelchair ramps. This is where the therapeutic benefit comes into play; each person has to discover new ways to get around.
In the outdoors, there are no elevators and no wheelchair ramps. The mountain and the thrill of the hunt not only inspires the warriors to develop and train the brain to think differently but often times helps them find the determination to succeed. For each warrior that mental and/or physical journey is a little different.
The 100% volunteer staff is there to facilitate the true healing that comes from the mountain. Witnessing battle-scarred servicemen and women discovering for the first time or re-discovering ability that was once thought lost is not only inspirational but a true miracle.
USMC TJ Tejada
Ron Raboud and wounded warrior mentor Jim Sursely met TJ just six months following the loss of both of his legs above the knee due to injury sustained in combat. The promise of a bear hunt kept TJ working hard through physical therapy looking forward to the promise of the amazing adventure that lie in wait. TJ refused to be held back and 2.5 years after his injuries were sustained, he met the medical goals that were required for him to attend the WWO black bear hunt.
In the moment one rarely rises up to the occasion but most always falls back on their level of training. TJ, a 14 year Marine has extensive training. After sorting out the reticle in his Swarovski Optik scope, he set his hand atop the tripod, wrapped the sling around his arm resting the stock of the gun along his wrist, all while balancing in his wheelchair on the side of a mountain, took aim and executed an absolutely perfectly placed shot on the chocolate colored black bear at over 300 yards.
As a hunter, the moment of truth and reward lies in the recovery. The bruin was too large to drag down the mountain for TJ to experience a proper recovery for his bear, so the chain saws came out and we all made sure that TJ was there, in the exact place that his bear lay, doing a proper recovery. For the final steps leading to the bruin, TJ wrapped his arms around the necks of WWO volunteers, Omar and Jordie and they literally carried him to his bear.
Having been on many hunts, I can honestly say that I have never been on a hunt that has affected me so deeply. Words simply do not give this moment justice but in that moment, watching TJ with his bear, knowing the years of work that had went into that moment, the look on his face is exactly why I volunteer to be part of the WWO program.
That day changed TJ’s life and later that week, TJ found the strength within himself to walk up the stairs out of the house to the car on his prosthetic legs for the first time since his double amputation three years prior. The moments TJ had experienced with WWO on the mountain, had changed his life.
Flash forward, less than one year later, it was an honor to stand beside TJ at the 2014 Wild Sheep Foundation National Convention where TJ is now serving as an alumni member in the WWO program for more recently wounded brothers and sisters in arms.
The beauty of the WWO program is that participants often become mentors to other, more recently wounded servicemen and women, forging a chain of support, inspiration and brotherhood that is unbreakable.
USMC Matt Amos
Matt has always been an avid hunter and after he was injured in combat June of 2011, resulting in the loss of both of his legs, it was not a question of if he would ever hunt, but how he would have to improvise to make hunting possible again.
In May of 2012, on the one year anniversary of Matt’s alive day, the day he was injured in combat that nearly cost him his life, he was on the mountain, hunting black bear with WWO. Matt credits the WWO program as being the greatest part of his recovery mentally and emotionally and now serves as an alumni mentor of the WWO program. Matt’s story is truly one that comes full circle, from service to countrymen over-seas to the home land.
Matt’s service does not end with WWO, he works directly with his personal Prosthetist visiting new patients both military and civilian helping to keep them motivated to learn to live life as normal, just improvised. Currently, Matt is mentoring a tiny four year old boy named Bear that lost both of his legs above the knee due to a rare condition. Thanks to Matt and his inspiration, for the first time in the four year olds life, he can now freely dream of playing, not in the confines of a wheelchair, but on his two new prosthetic legs.
These are but two stories of the approximately 400 lives that the WWO program has touched since inception in 2006. Those who participate in WWO, will discover or rediscover their abilities on the mountain and often times learn that disability is as more of a mind-set than it is a physical limitation. In the outdoors, healing is found in both visible and invisible ways that is difficult to imagine until you witness it first-hand.
It is an honor to support some of America’s best and brightest patriots, our service men and women, participants of the WWO program, helping to provide them with therapeutic outdoor adventures and an opportunity to venture back into wild country. Thanks to the generous support of donors and volunteers, freedom to participants is re-discovered on the mountain.