02/19/10 — Handicapped hunter receives SCI award

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Handicapped hunter receives SCI award

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on February 19, 2010 3:05 PM

North Carolina Handicapped Sportsmen, Inc. is a non-profit organization founded by Ed Mays in 2005. Its mission is helping disabled sportsmen participate in outdoor recreation.

Since he hunts from a power chair, Mays knows his mission intimately. For his work with other disadvantaged hunters, he received the Safari Club International Pathfinder Award at the club's annual 37th annual convention on Jan. 22, 2010 in Reno, Nevada.

"SCI flew me and my wife, Mary to the convention," Mays said. "Receiving the Pathfinder Award is a humbling experience. As part of the award, I will receive an all-expense paid 10-day safari to South Africa.

But the award is not about me. It's about the things we've done and can do in North Carolina to make hunting more accessible for handicapped sportsmen. I want this award to draw more attention and resources to those needs."

SCI named its Pathfinder Award according to Webster's Dictionary definition, "One who discovers a way into or through unexplored regions." The award is given by the world's most accomplished hunters to recognize recipients as ambassadors to others facing similar challenges.

The criteria, from the SCI Foundation's website, are, "When one is faced with overcoming a physical challenge or disability, that is capable of blocking the "routine" way forward through life, (including hunting and shooting) he or she must discover previously unexplored regions of self esteem, self worth, courage, persistence and determination. Through trial and error, success and failure, the pathfinder, with a "never quit attitude," works hard to discover his or her own way through life."

Mays is 40 years old. His physical challenges began in July, 1980 when he was struck by lightning while on guard duty in the U.S. Army, standing watch over 23,000 Cuban refugees at Fort McCoy Wisconsin. The bolt caused extensive nerve damage, resulting in his honorable discharge in 1981 with 100 percent disability. He used a cane and crutches for walking at first. But, in 1993, he was diagnosed with relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis. In 1995, he was placed in a wheelchair. Then came a diagnosis of secondary progressive MS in 1998.

"The MS is not going away," Mays said. "It's taken away even more of my ability. Using a manual wheelchair for years tore the rotator cuffs in my shoulders, so now I use an electric wheelchair."

Paralyzed Veterans of America showed Mays he could still hunt. Through PVA programs, he learned being wheelchair-bound wouldn't stop him from doing anything.

"When I retired, instead of receiving benefits of disabled sportsman's programs, I became an advocate," he said. "I moved to North Carolina in 2003 and began working with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission citizens' advisory committee for disabled sportsmen. In 2004, I was on an antelope hunt with Lt. Col. Lew Deal of PVA, who said PVA had partnered with Budweiser to buy 30 Huntmaster hydraulic lifts for disabled sportsmen. He agreed to bring one to North Carolina."

Mays founded NCHS in 2005. The first NCHS disabled deer hunt brought a wounded marine staff sergeant to the deer lease of Steve Windham, who is now Chairman of Commission. Other deer hunts and turkey hunts have been held since.

"I developed a relationship with the Commission, through Executive Directors Charles Fullwood and Dick Hamilton and through Commission Chairman John Pechmann, who signed a memorandum of understanding to further the needs of disabled sportsman through cooperation between NCHS and the Commission. When Wes Seegars became Chairman, the Commission officially formed the Disabled Sportsman's Committee, made of five commissioners. Steve Windham was its first chairman.

In 2008, the Commission raised $50,000 and NCHS, Inc. raised $50,000 to buy 10 Huntmaster lifts. NCHS raised another $40,000 for the organization's infrastructure and to buy three $7,500 High Quad 100 shooting assist devices that allow quadriplegics to remotely aim and fire guns from wheelchairs. Hunts for 80 disabled sportsmen were also funded.

"When we began, North Carolina had only a couple of special hunts for disabled sportsmen and now there are more than 100 listed in the Commission's Special Hunt Opportunities," Mays said. "It's amazing having been able to accomplish all this, but the need is still greater."