Iím reminded today of the time I met Keenan Simpkins at the Corner House in Gladwin. Keenan was joined by his parents and step parents, a couple guys named Jay and Jerod that he hardly knew, and me; a guy with a camera and a notepad who apparently writes articles or something like that.
The group got together to plan a bear hunt for a very special boy. Jay donated the kill tag. Jerod donated the guided hunt. His family was there to help it all happen. I was there to document it. Keenan was there to stare down his fears once again in an act of bravery and courage.
Just over one year ago, in October of 2013, Keenan was diagnosed with a malignant form of brain cancer. The day after Keenan was diagnosed, he went under for a 13 hour long surgery that left him with a scar on the back of his head to remember it by. The surgery was followed by an intensive chemo and radiation program. He underwent 7 Ĺ weeks of treatment between November and December, with radiation every day. Keenan fought. With the help of his family and friends and the fine folks at U of M, Keenan continues to fight. Itís a battle Keenan came strapped for, and itís a battle Keenan is winning.
When things got tough, Keenan didnít quit. He had no choice but to press on. When he felt sick from nearly 8 weeks of cancer treatments, he never counted himself out. He showed grit. He showed resolve. He showed courage.
Last fall, when Keenan was on the mend, it was time to stare another one of his fears in the eye. The bear hunt his new friends had planned was fast approaching. Keenan worried about whether or not heíd have the strength to trek back into the woods where the bear would be once it was treed. He feared the act of coming face to face with a bear with just a few feet between them. He worried that heíd be able to make a clean shot when he needed to. All of these fears, worries and concerns were real for Keenan, but they didnít stop him.
He started practicing with his rifle. His shot was steady so he got his boots and pants ready. He did make the trek into the woods. The dogs did tree a bear and Keenan did raise his rifle at it. Keenan did pull the trigger. He did stand under a tree as a black bear fell to his feet. He did tag the bear. He did walk out of the woods as a successful bear hunter. He did emerge as top predator of the Upper Peninsula woods. Keenanís courage made it possible.
Iím also reminded today of another hunter who inspired me. His name is Tony Keith. I met Tony in October of 2013. I wrote a story about a whitetail hunt that Tony had gone on recently. He had been dreaming of becoming a whitetail buck hunter for some time. There were a lot of challenges he would face to realize that dream though. The odds were against Tony.
But Tony is a man that loves a good challenge. Heís become very good at overcoming obstacles. He faces them each and every day. The simplest tasks that most take for granted can be a real trial for Tony. But to Tony, trials are opportunities. Theyíre opportunities to better himself, opportunities to fulfill a dream.
Tony is a C6 incomplete quadriplegic. He gets around with the help of a motorized wheel chair. He has a hard time doing certain tasks with his hands. The idea of racking a shell into a bolt-action rifle was simply daunting. But Tony couldnít let the dream of killing his first whitetail buck slide by. So, with the help of his new friend Matt Arbour, Tony planned his buck hunt.
He practiced with his rifle before driving out to the property. He wheeled his chair over rough terrain during the September 2013 Liberty Hunt. He set up along a food plot in a tent blind that was brushed in to better camouflage them. He raised his rifle onto a homemade rifle leveler to help him steady his shot when the time came.
Out came a big-bodied five point buck. The buck quartered away from Tony at 150 yards. Tony took aim, pulled the trigger and dropped the buck in his tracks. One shot one kill. He did it. He was a successful buck hunter.
He couldnít walk out to the blind. He couldnít pull back the lever without some help. He couldnít get into position without a will to succeed that pushed him to overcome his obstacles. Whatís most important is that Tony couldnít be told that he ďcanít.Ē
Canít sure is a funny word anyway. It only exists if you choose to believe itís true. It can only slow you down if you let it and itís never a surety. Inspiring things can happen when itís ignored altogether. Doors are opened and those who believe there is no place in life for the word will fly through those doors like a bullet from a hot barrel. Itís not always easy and it may seem impossible to do alone. Sometimes you just need someone to help pull the trigger.
Thereís a lot to learn from Tony and Keenanís stories. They both bucked up and buckled down when things got tough. They both looked their biggest fears straight in the eyes. They both accomplished goals that so many people may have thought they couldnít. They taught us that there really is no such thing as canít. The put on a clinic of courage and their communities are proud of them for it.