Photo by Layna Hendrich of PhotographyLayn

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Being a Wheeling Momma (Part 2)

I thought being pregnant and delivering Addison would be the hardest part of being a Mom. Boy, was I naive! Considering the pregnancy was fairly normal, and I was sedated during the delivery, I should have known that the craziness best was yet to come.

I am a type-A, OCD, planner. One of my favorite quotes is, "I adore spontaneity, providing it is carefully planned." :) So when we found out we were having a baby, my nerdiness kicked in and the research began! I read books, scoured internet sites and blogs, stalked carefully observed other moms with their children, etc. I had this.

And then we brought Addison home. Right off the bat, I knew she was trouble. This five pound bundle was willful, disobedient, and incredibly strong willed, all traits I know she got from her Father... She didn't do what the books and websites said she would do- actually, she usually did the opposite!

I quickly learned that this Mom thing was going to be tougher than I thought. And not because I was in a wheelchair. Parenting is just plain hard! But fortunately, as I would learn, very much worth it.

I discovered that if I used the good advice I received from others, and molded it to fit our situation and personalities, sprinkled in with amazing teamwork from Russ and a LOT of prayer, life began to make a little more sense with this new addition to our family. And while it's definitely a daily education, and some days I still wonder if I birthed the Anti-Christ, being a Mom is the best job title in the world.

When I think back over the last three years, I am thankful that God blessed me with a great imagination and a determination to make things work. After we got home from the hospital, a lot of my old fears resurfaced. What if I dropped her or rolled over her? How would I manage when Russ went back to work? Would I ever leave the house again? I decided then and there that Addison and I were a team, and that we would just have to figure things out as they came along.

So here are some of the things that we learned together along the way. Keep in mind, with my injury level, I have horrible balance, but decent upper body strength. So while these tips worked for me, everyone will need to modify things to work for you and your abilities.

Tip #1: Grab a baby doll that weighs around 8 pounds and head to the nearest baby store

We don't have a huge selection or showroom of baby equipment here in Cody, so on a trip to Boise for work, Russ and I stopped in to a Babies 'R' Us. I wanted to know what style of crib, changing table, car seat/stroller, etc. would be best for me without buying it first. Think of this as a practice run for building your baby registry. Try putting the baby doll in the cribs, taking it off of the changing tables, and pushing it around in some of the strollers that are out on display. If it's there- try it out. You would be surprised how many different styles of high chairs are out there, and they all open a little differently. You may feel a little silly with the doll at first, but it can be a lifesaver, and much easier than borrowing a real baby for the adventure.

Tip #2: Create your accessible happy place

In the house we brought Addison home to, her nursery was pretty tiny. As in I had to back out of it because I couldn't even turn around in my wheelchair. Definitely not ADA standards by any means. :) So I built my first happy place in our bedroom. Bad idea. Your accessible happy place needs to be somewhere where you can have everything you need for the first several months of your baby's life, but it also needs to be out in some room of your house that doesn't encourage hermit-ness. (My spell check is telling me I just made up that word...) In the bedroom, it was too easy to literally stay in there all day long. Not great for helping out that post-partum depression/homicidal/suicidal/I kept the receipt can I give her back phase that most honest Moms go through.

So I moved to the living room. Much better accessible happy place! I had my pack 'n' play (or bassinet) complete with changing surface and storage, my breast pump, several changes of clothes, spit rags, and a little section of anything and everything needed to change or care for a small human. This was all placed within reach of my couch. (Did I mention I was still recovering from a pretty gnarly emergency C-section?) For the first few months, I camped out here. I could feed Addison, change her, play with her, and take naps with her, all in my happy place. It was a great bonding experience (for the most part) as I learned all about her, her needs, her communication, etc.

After the first few months, this happy place evolved, but it remained in the living room. The pack 'n' play was on wheels, so if we had visitors, it was easy to shove in the guest room if needed. As Addison started to grow and get more mobile, and I regained my strength and own mobility, I was able to move to the floor at times with her, which was great for both of us. Once she started crawling, I used large toys and a new furniture configuration to keep her boxed in to the area where I was at if I was on the floor with her. Trust me- they are hard enough to chase down when you are in your wheelchair. Army crawling after them across carpet is not fun. They are fast little spiders.

Eventually, I didn't need the happy place any more, but it was definitely a lifesaver as I adjusted to my new role and responsibilities.

Tip #3: The art of lifting- get creative

One of my biggest concerns was always carrying/lifting Addison. Luckily, she was tiny to begin with, so I was able to ease in to the process. I found that when I wanted to carry her on my lap, a nursing pillow, like a Boppy, was invaluable. I could put the Boppy on my lap, and she fit perfectly between my body and the pillow. I've even heard of people using a bungy cord to secure the Boppy to the back of their chair to ensure it stays in place. If she was on the floor or other lower spot, I would always keep a blanket underneath her body, so when I needed to pick her up, I could just grab the corners of the blanket and use it as a sling to get her off of the ground and on my lap. Sounds a little primitive, but it worked great!

As she got older, and she was able to sit up by herself, she rode on my lap like a champ. I always kept one hand on her and did the whole "push with one arm, switch arms, push with other arm" that I do when I am carrying something in my hand. I have to say, I think kids with parents that use wheelchairs must learn superior balancing skills at an early age for survival purposes. She was also easier to get off of the ground once she could reach and pull up a little by herself. Pretty soon she was crawling up my legs to get in my lap. Oddly enough, that hasn't changed as her mode to get to Mommy as quickly as possible.

A lot of people will tell you to use a sling when carrying your baby. I tried a couple of different ones, but honestly, for me, they ended up being more of a hindrance than a help. I could never get comfortable in one, and they always rubbed my sides and shoulders when I was wheeling around. I know other wheelchair Moms who swear by their slings, so talk to your other Mom friends who have slings and see if someone will let you try one out. Aren't you glad you kept your baby doll from Tip #1?

Tip #4: Get out of the house

You have to do it sometime. I know it's scary, but it beats becoming a recluse. And we all know how important our independence is. My rule on this is, if you did it before baby, you can do it after baby. You just need to get creative. And patient. And you have to give yourself about double the time, at least in the beginning.

I know everyone gets in their car differently, and that some people transfer and some people stay in their chairs. Again, depending on your personal abilities, this is going to be a varied process for each parent. I found that I was able to put Addison in her car seat, leave it at the top of my ramp, go down the ramp, and then reach up and retrieve the car seat. I then carried it to the car on my lap, again using the one hand motion, and put it in her car seat base. Then I loaded the diaper bag, the stroller, and then myself and my chair. Labor intensive and a little time consuming, but I think most wheelchair users are used to things taking us a little bit longer. :) Once she was too big for her infant car seat, she was able to ride on my lap down the ramp, and I wore a transfer belt to keep her on my lap. Remember those annoying belts that the therapists used to transfer you in therapy? Turns out they make excellent child seat belts while on Mom's lap! In to the car seat she went, and away we would go. Unloading was the same process, just backward.

I have seen parents in chairs do this a million different ways, but bottom line, practice before baby comes and don't give up! Maintaining your independence is crucial, and being able to run errands and go to doctor's appointments with your baby is a great bonding opportunity. I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy having Russ with me on multiple occasions to help out, but Addison and I figure stuff out together all the time on our own, and I think we make a pretty good team too!

Tip #5: Specific items that made it all possible

As a disclaimer, I am in no way endorsing these products, nor am I being reimbursed in any way for telling you how amazing they are. They are just awesome pieces of equipment that I found worked best for me. That is all.

Strollers: Baby Trend - Jogger Travel System

To me, this was the most essential piece of baby equipment when it came to maintaining my independence. Not only is this stroller easy to push from a wheelchair, but it's easy to load baby into, it has great storage, and it's easy to fold and load in to the back of my car. This thing changed my life. And Russ likes it too. Amazing product for wheeling parents.

Crib: DaVinci Parker 4-in-1 Convertible Crib

This crib has a sloped front, which made it so much easier for me to get Addison in and out of her bed when she was tiny and not able to reach for me. At this point, the crib mattress is still at the top stage, so she was easy to access. As they grow, the mattress lowers, but they should be able to help you out by reaching and pulling themselves up. Good storage underneath for extra sheets/blankets, and it has a matching changing table and dresser. This crib also converts and grows with your child. We are getting ready to convert Addison's to a full size bed this weekend. I don't want to talk about it.

Bath: Portable bath with shower unit

Of course, they no longer make the bath we had, but this one is pretty similar. I found leaning over a tub or even trying to properly access my kitchen sink was a chore, so this bath was very helpful. I could sit at the kitchen table and give Addison a bath. The infant sling was great, and the shower piece made rinsing her off so much easier- and fun! If needed, I could fill the tub with a pitcher, and empty it the same way until it was almost completely empty, and then dump the remaining water in the sink. Addison loved this tub too. As she got older and outgrew the tub, we eventually moved to the regular tub in the bathroom, but only after she was able to control her body movements a lot better. And even then, I usually had Russ get her out, just because a slippery, wiggling baby made this balance challenged Mom a little nervous. But, I still was able to enjoy bathing her completely indpendently in the beginning, and with minimal assistance after. I even know parents who use a laundry basket in the bath tub for making bath times a little easier. Again- practice! (Who knew you would learn to depend on that baby doll so much...?)

Baby Monitor: Something with a video screen

These can be a little pricey, but they are so worth it. In the wee hours of the morning, when you are sleep deprived and your back is killing you, it is so nice to be able to actually SEE your baby in the other room and know that they aren't dying as opposed to getting up, transferring into your chair, wheeling in to the nursery, adjusting a blanket, wheeling back, transferring back into bed, finding that perfect position with your body pillow to prevent pressure sores, and falling back asleep for a few more precious minutes, until you repeat the process all over again. These also come in handy when your willful toddler is supposed to be taking a nap, and you have finally stretched out in your recliner for a few brief moments of back pain relief, and you hear some noise coming from their room that sounds suspiciously like playtime, and you can tell them to get back in bed and stop doing specifically what they are doing, which really freaks them out because they didn't know you were watching them from the other room. Whew! Not that I am speaking from personal experience or anything. Get one!

Cart Cover: Leachco Prop 'n' Shop

I love, and continue to use, this cart cover, for many reasons. It fits every shopping cart I've ever come across, it has side pillows, it has storage in the back, it holds toys that can't be thrown on the floor, and it is easily cleaned in the washing machine. Love! I was able to grocery shop independently before Addison was born, and now, it is one of our favorite outings together. Once a week we load up and head to Walmart. I never knew grocery shopping could be such an educational experience for a toddler! It's great for social interaction, for learning about lots of different items, and for bonding between Mom and child. We are a good team on a normal day, but at Walmart, we are a force to be reckoned with. And a good cart cover makes it a much more enjoyable experience.

Safety Gates: Something similar to this

I used to think safety gates were my friends way of keeping me out of certain areas where they didn't want tire tracks on their floors. Could there be a more inaccessible product out there for parents in chairs? Fortunately, our first home didn't have stairs or any other features that I had to try and keep Addison away from, but when we built our current home, we put in a basement with stairs. At this time, we don't have the elevator installed, and I don't have a daily need to go to the basement, so they aren't a problem for me. They are, however, for my adventurous little girl. When I went to purchase a safety gate, I quickly found that these were definitely invented by an able-bodied person. Here are some things to look for when researching a w/c friendly gate:
  • Make sure the entire gate swings- those accordion fold things are a nightmare
  • Avoid the ones with little doors in the middle- they are rarely wide enough for a wheelchair, and hopping over the little piece of plastic at the bottom of the opening is not fun and not conducive to actually keeping the gate in working order
  • Make sure you can access and operate the lock from both sides of the gate (I am positive these latches were invented by someone who HATES parents)

Obviously, this is not an all inclusive list of baby products, but it should hopefully get you started. There are millions of products out there, which can be great, but it is also a little intimidating wading through the variety, especially if you are a first-time parent like I was.

I use to worry about being a parent in a wheelchair. Would my child be embarrassed by me? Would they "miss out" on things because they didn't have two, able-bodied parents? I quickly learned that Addison having a parent in a wheelchair is actually a positive thing. She was introduced to people with disabilities from the beginning, and they are more "normal" to her than able-bodied individuals. She sees other people in chairs and is drawn to them, instead of being frightened as some children are. I truly believe that having a parent in a wheelchair will make Addison a more compassionate, grounded, well-rounded adult one day. She's going to change the world, and this wheeling Momma can't wait to see how she does it! Now if I could just get her to poop on the potty...

I'm sorry that this turned in to such a long post! I hope that it can answer some questions for some of the wheeling users out there, or at least open the door to some great questions or conversations. Please feel free to comment below, or on the Facebook link where I will link this blog post. And as always, you can contact me at with other questions or comments. Thank you!

(Another great picture from Layna of me and my mini-me)

Layna Hendrich/ Photography Layn

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Being a Wheeling Momma (Part 1)

With Addison's third birthday quickly approaching, I thought I would visit the topic of Motherhood; specifically what it's like to be a Mom in a wheelchair.

I always wanted to be a Mom, so when my accident happened, one of my first thoughts was that I might not ever get that opportunity. Or if I did, how in the world would I take care of a baby? Luckily, I have an amazing team of doctors who believe in the perfect blend of honesty, reality, and doing everything they can to help their patients live the life they want to live in a safe and healthy way.

When Russ and I were married in 2006, we said we would wait two years before having a baby. But when two years came around, we realized that we weren't quite ready. So we ended up waiting another two years before we started the process. When my accident happened, nothing internally was damaged that would prevent me from getting pregnant, but we had no idea how my body would react to carrying a baby, or delivering a baby. To make matters even more interesting, I was on a blood-thinner from a previous series of blood clots that would be dangerous to the baby.

Our first step was to meet with our local OB-GYN to make sure we were good to go to start trying to have a baby. We went armed with a list of questions, and we were pleased with the answers we received. We even met with a high-risk doctor in Billings, MT (a bigger city about two hours away), to make sure we were covering all of our bases. We found out several things:
  • We shouldn't have any trouble conceiving
  • I would need to discontinue my current medication and start daily Lovenox shots
  • If I made it to 35 weeks, I could deliver in my local hospital
  • We would attempt a vaginal delivery, but be prepared for a C-section if needed
Armed with the positive encouragement that this was something we could do, we started the fun part- trying! :) Four months later (and Russ takes full responsibility for the awesomeness of a speedy conception), we found out we were expecting on January 1, 2010. What a way to start the new year! We had great ultrasounds, amazing baby showers, fun times decorating the nursery and preparing for the birth of our daughter. I had some extra swelling in my feet and back pain, and I kept losing weight instead of gaining it (more on this later), but for the most past, the pregnancy was fairly normal. Around 34 weeks, I noticed some UTI-like symptoms that were getting increasingly worse. Fortunately, I was working at the local Care Center attached to my hospital, so I was able to roll right down to the OB department and get checked out. Once I was hooked up to the monitors, we realized I was having contractions about every 3-5 minutes. Fluids and medication stopped the contractions, and I was able to head home.

We did this "trial run" a few more times just to keep things interesting, and we started weekly check-ups. Addison continued to pass her stress tests, and although she was measuring a little small, everything looked like it was developing normally. At my 37-week checkup, Addison passed the stress test, but I failed my amniotic fluid test. It was decided then that I would check in to the hospital that night to be induced the following morning. This was a bit of a relief to us, as I had always been a little nervous that I would go into labor and not know it. The induction would be in a controlled, familiar environment surrounded by the doctors and nurses I knew and trusted. What could go wrong?

If you know me well, you know that I can't seem to do things the easy way. And I am quickly learning that my daughter is just like me. :) I went to sleep around 10:30 p.m. that evening, and was awakened by the nurse around 1:00 a.m. Addison’s heart rate was decelerating at times, and we needed to change positions frequently to keep pressure off of her umbilical cord. While moving me, we realized that my water had broken. I already had low amniotic fluid, and losing that additional cushion wasn’t helping her at all. After she continued to decelerate, the doctor was called in to check things out. He decided to do a procedure called amnio-transfusion, which replenishes some of the fluid lost when your water breaks.

This seemed to work for a while, but then Addison had a 6-minute stretch where her rate was in the 60’s, so it was decided that we needed to do a C-section to relieve the pressure on the cord and her stress. I was only dilated to 2 cm, so it was obvious she couldn’t keep things up long enough for a full labor and delivery. I called Russ and let him know he needed to come in as we were delivering now and not later in the day as planned.

As we were preparing for the C-section, the nurse checked me one last time and found that the umbilical cord had prolapsed. She jumped up on the bed between my legs, reached inside, and held Addison’s head off of the cord while we rushed to the OR. The last thing I remember is the nurse anesthetist telling me “this is going to burn,” and I was out. Addison was delivered in less than 3 minutes at 4:02 a.m. on Wednesday, September 1st. She weighed 5 lbs 1 oz and measured 17 ¼ inches long. Russ was able to hold her in the nursery while the doctors finished with me. She was about 1 ½ hours old when I was able to hold her after coming to.

I don’t want to get too dramatic, but we know that the situation was serious and we could have easily lost our daughter. To put things in perspective, the following is a medical definition of what happened. “Umbilical cord prolapse is an obstetric emergency during pregnancy or labor that imminently endangers the life of the fetus. Cord prolapse is rare. Statistics on cord prolapse vary, but the range is between 0.14% and 0.62% of all births in most studies. It happens when the umbilical cord precedes the fetus' exit from the uterus. Cord prolapse is often concurrent with the rupture of the amniotic sac. After this happens the fetus moves downward into the pelvis and puts pressure on the cord. As a result, oxygen and blood supplies to the fetus are diminished or cut-off and the baby must be delivered quickly.”

We are so thankful to the doctors, nurses, and operating room staff for their quickness and calmness during the whole ordeal. Three years later, Addison is doing great, and you would never know that she had such a rough beginning. We know without a doubt that God has special plans for her, and we can’t wait to see what He has in store!

One of her newborn pictures

I will blog more over the next few weeks about the days and months following her birth, with lessons and tips I learned along the way for Moms in chairs. More to come!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

An Accident

The question that I get asked the most is, "What happened to you- why are you in a wheelchair?" Depending on the person, my mood, the weather, and many other variables, the answer usually goes something like this: "I was in a ranching accident." Or "I fell off of a hay rack and landed on the handle of a pitchfork." I prefer the second answer, because it always gets the best reaction, but it also opens up the door for more inquiries. Most of the time I don't mind answering questions, but every once in a while I am tempted to make up an even crazier, more dramatic story about my accident.

One year at church camp, my sister decided to beat everyone to the punch, and started spreading two very different stories about what had happened to her big sister. After a few days she had half of the camp believing she had shot me, and the other half convinced that she had hit me with a car. You have to know my sister to see her personality behind this- I love her sense of humor...

It's funny how facts can get discombobulated when a story begins to spread. People heard I was injured by a bear, by a bull, by a fall from a horse; one story even had me falling out of a cabin bunk while reading my Bible! I suppose when people hear "Wyoming" and "ranching accident," their imaginations can get the best of them and run totally amuck. So let me tell you the REAL story...

Have you ever been somewhere that just felt like home? As if you had waited your entire life to be in that place and wanted to remain forever? To me, that place is Wyoming. I dreamed of it long before my first visit as a teen on a family vacation. The mountains, horses, fresh air, and laid back way of life were appealing even then, and continue to inspire me on a daily basis.

When I learned of the opportunity to attend a camp at a ranch in Wyoming, I started saving my money right away. It was well worth it. Those two weeks were an amazing experience for a fifteen year old girl, and I vowed to return at the next possible opportunity. The following year, the camp was opened for a three-week session, and I made my reservations. Little did I know that this trip would be different than the previous adventures, and that it would change my life forever.

On Monday, August 2, 1999, I woke up early to complete my chores before leaving for a backpacking trip in the mountains. I walked down to the corrals, climbed up onto the hay rack, and began pitching feed to the livestock below. As I broke open a bale of hay, a flake fell to the side. I leaned over to grab the piece with my pitchfork and lost my balance. As I began to fall, my last thought was, “Throw the pitchfork.”

The next thing I remember is waking up. I tried to get up and could not move the lower half of my body. I assumed a bale of hay had fallen on me, or that one of the steers had gotten loose and was standing on me. Then I noticed the pitchfork handle under my back. Although I had flung the implement, I had hit my head on the way down and had been thrown out onto the fallen, wooden handle. Like a giant “T,” I was laying flat directly on the tool.  I was not impaled, but the pitchfork had still done its damage. I noticed a strange tingling in my legs and back, with no pain, but with no movement or control. I began to yell for help.

The next hours and days are a blur to me. I was taken to the local hospital and stabilized before being airlifted to another facility in Montana. My parents, at home in Indiana, were notified of my accident and began to make arrangements to meet me in Montana. They were told that I had broken my back and that I was experiencing some paralysis. Beyond that, information was sketchy at best. They approved my initial surgery over the phone and were able to arrive at the hospital by Monday evening.

Where I landed on the handle of the pitchfork, it had shattered my T-12 vertebrae. If you follow your last rib around to your back, it connects to your vertebral column at T-12. This burst fracture had blown fragments of bone out into surrounding tissue and badly smashed my spinal cord, although it was not severed, nor had I lost any spinal fluid- it was an incomplete SCI. My first two surgeries removed the fragments and rebuilt my vertebrae with pieces of bone taken from grafts of my hip and pelvis. Metal plates and screws were inserted to stabilize the injury site.

My paralysis began right below my belly button and circled around to my back. I could still feel a tingling sensation in my legs, but I had no movement or control. The doctors told us I had a 50-50 chance of regaining my sensation over the next two years. After that, the odds dropped substantially. A wheelchair was introduced and I began learning how much I would rely on a hunk of metal for survival. I remained in Montana for therapy for the next month, and then returned to Indiana to continue therapy and attempt to adjust to my new life.

An accident. When my toddler does something wrong, her new favorite excuse is, "It was an accident!" Usually this phrase is used when something happens unintentionally, or in my daughter's case, when one doesn't want the blame for an event. So when I talk about my injury, I refer to it as "my accident." Yes, it was a traumatic, unexpected mishap. It wasn't intended on my part. But God doesn't make accidents. He never moves without a purpose. He doesn't make mistakes.

This truth might make some people bitter; that God intentionally allowed something hurtful to happen to them. I struggled with this way of thought for some time after I was injured. Why would He let this happen? I was a "good" girl and I didn't deserve to be in a wheelchair. But in my darkest hours, I learned something life-changing. God means everything to happen for my good.

At our Wednesday night Bible study this week, our Pastor talked about how, during times of distress, people often quote Romans 8:28. Although this is a popular verse when someone is hurting, it is often used out of context.

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

All things work together for good. But what is the good? That I walk again? That I inspire people? That I see my name in the newspaper or my face on television?

The answer can be found by finishing the chapter. It talks about God's love and His salvation to all who believe. Anything that happens in our lives, good or bad, is for the furtherance of the Gospel. And that includes my accident.

And that, to me, makes it all worth it. Yes, I have days when I get tired of this broken body. I have days when my attitude is anything but grateful. I even have days where this truth is not enough for my human, hurting heart. But in the end, I know that I serve a God who loves me, who gave everything for me, and who seeks to use me in ways I could never imagine.

For the good.

For His good.

To bring others to Him.

My accident was no accident.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Why I Hunt

Today marks the 14th anniversary of my accident. What a ride it has been! I'll write more in a later blog post about my fall and subsequent paralysis, but thought I would answer some questions about one of my outdoor passions first, as it seems to have garnered the most interest over the last few weeks!

I also wanted to share a few preview shots from the photo shoot I did with Layna Hendrich on Tuesday night. Have I mentioned how amazing she is? This girl is creative, talented, and so much fun to work with. If you are looking for a photographer for any of your needs, look no further than Layna with PhotographyLayn. She can be reached at 307-899-0049 or She's awesome!

(Disclaimer: At the end of this post I will also have a few hunting pictures with animals I have harvested. If that bothers you, just read the text and avoid the pictures at the end. That is all...)

Hunting. The word brings so many different reactions- some positive and some negative. I had no idea that being a huntress (love that word) would so set me apart in the Ms. Wheelchair USA competition, but I have to admit, I received more questions about it than any other outdoor activity in which I participate. The main questions ranged from "How do you shoot those poor animals?" to "Can I come and hunt with you?" So I thought I would try and cover some of the main topics with information from my own personal experiences with hunting. I'm not attempting to change anyone's mind on the subject; I just wanted to share my feelings to clear up any confusion and offer my side of the topic.

First of all, let me explain how I became involved in hunting. I was born and raised in Indiana, where hunting is definitely available, but not quite on the same scale as it is in other areas of the US. I had a few friends who hunted, but it wasn't a way of life in my household. I had never shot a gun or skinned anything beyond science experiments in high school. I had tasted wild game a few times, but nothing worth mentioning. So when I fell in love with a boy from Wyoming, who had been hunting his entire life, my perspective on the sport changed dramatically.

When I moved to Wyoming in 2007 after marrying Russ, I quickly realized that hunting wasn't just a sport, it was a way of life- a vital opportunity for some people to feed their family. I had always pictured beer-drinking rednecks in camo and orange laying waste to herds of baby deer in an attempt to bring home "the big one" to grace their already crowded log cabin walls. And while I'm not saying that there aren't irresponsible hunters out there, for the most part, people in Wyoming take hunting safety and regulations very seriously.

When I was approached by a friend who is also in a wheelchair about starting a non-profit for disabled hunters, I thought it would be a good opportunity to put my computer skills to good use. I had no idea that I would soon be doing so much more than taking notes for meetings. We founded Wyoming Disabled Hunters in 2008, with our inaugural hunt in the fall of 2009. When I was approached about being a hunter, I was a little reluctant at first. Could I pull the trigger? Would I want to pull the trigger? At the encouragement of family and friends, I decided to try. And I'm so glad I did!

Because of the blood thinner that I take, anything with a hard recoil can cause serious bruising and pain, so rifles are not an option. I tried different bows, but found pulling the string back a challenge, so now I hunt with a Parker Concorde crossbow fitted with a CO2 canister that pulls back the string with the push of a button. I love adaptive equipment! (And, as a side note, we are in the process of rigging something new to allow me to shoot a rifle safely- but more on that later...)

I will add pictures at the end of this post, but before I do, I wanted to address some of the reasons why I choose to hunt:

#1: I love being outdoors in any capacity, and hunting allows you to experience nature as never before. Viewing animals in their natural habitat is a pretty exhilarating experience. Sometimes animals walk so close to the hunting blind that you could literally reach out and touch them. It's amazing! As an animal lover, this is definitely one of the perks of hunting. My husband always goes along as my companion hunter, and it's a wonderful experience to share together.

After reading that, you're probably asking yourself, "How can you say that and then shoot the animals?" That builds on to the next reason I enjoy hunting.

#2: The thrill of the hunt. There is something very primal and rewarding about being a successful hunter. From the months of preparation, to the placement of the blind, to the patient wait, to the actual shot, there is so much that goes into being successful in harvesting an animal. I prefer to give the animals a fighting chance, and I appreciate it more if I have to work for it. Outsmarting the animal is half the battle- you also have to be responsible enough to make a clean shot. Which means prep work throughout the year and lots of practice.

It's not all about killing an animal- that part should bother you more than a little. In my opinion, if the actual kill doesn't bother you, then you have no business hunting. I'm not out there because I love killing animals- I'm providing for my family. Which leads me to the best reason of all.

#3: The food! It doesn't get much more organic than hunting wild game. Harvesting a deer, elk, or other edible creature is the best way to get fresh, affordable meat. I am able to supervise the entire process by personally processing the meat and getting exactly the cuts I want. Filling my freezer this way is not only rewarding as a wife and mom, but it is great on my pocket-book. And I don't hunt things that I can't either eat myself or give to someone who will eat it. That's just my personal choice. I appreciate going after a trophy animal, but I need more than that- show me the meat!

This also allows you to enjoy a sense of community and sharing. There are lots of folks who harvest more meat than their family can eat, and they are then able to share it with others who weren't able to harvest, or could simply use the fresh meat to feed their family. Again, hunting isn't just a sport in Wyoming- it's a way of life.

I hope this helps some of you to better understand hunting and those who choose to hunt. Again, I certainly don't speak for all hunters; this is just my explanation of a personal choice I have made. You don't have to agree, but I hope you can respect my decision as I respect the decision of those who choose to either abstain from meat altogether, or obtain their meat another way.

If you have any questions about anything I have mentioned, or would like more information about Wyoming Disabled Hunters, PhotographyLayn, or adaptive hunting equipment, please email me at or contact me through my Facebook page.

Now, here are the promised pictures. (This is another warning for those who don't wish to see them...) The first is a mule deer buck from 2009, and the second is another mule deer buck from 2012. (Took some time off to have my daughter...) Did I mention I drew a bull elk tag for this fall?