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Monday, May 2, 2016

Iowa couple helps ill, disabled achieve outdoor dreams

Thursday, April 17, 2008

It's not easy to get a wheelchair through the woods. Firing a rifle with only one hand is no piece of cake, either. But with the right attitude, it can be done.

That attitude, said hunter Derrick Meyer of Albia, may be stubbornness. When he takes terminally ill or disabled young people into the outdoors, the only reason he wants to know their limitations is so he can figure a way around them.

"This is for people who couldn't get out on their own," said Meyer's wife, Kristi. "It's a one-on-one adventure."

The two are the force behind the nonprofit "Hunts of Hopes and Dreams," based in Albia. Their motto: Making the outdoors more accessible.

"In 1999, the Make-A-Wish Foundation stopped granting the hunting wishes because people were against hunting," said Derrick Meyer, 36. "I was a big hunter, and my dad (who had taken him hunting) had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When Make-A-Wish announced they weren't doing it anymore, I wanted to."

But this isn't all about killing turkey or deer, he said. Some youngsters want to go outside to fish, some want to go target shooting and others just want to see some wildlife. But many have always had a dream to go hunting like their able-bodied family members or friends, some of whom thought that would be impossible.

"By us taking them and their parents, it shows them how to get past those disabilities," Meyer said. "Their family sees how to overcome those obstacles."

Meyer calls himself "bullheaded," and when he sees something that "can't be done," it makes him want to do it all the more.

One young man operated his wheelchair with a joystick controller since he only has use of his hand, not his arm. Meyer and an adaptive resources company came up with a wheelchair-mounted gun controlled by a second joystick - the rifle moves up, down, left or right. The gun scope has been replaced with a small video camera and the disabled hunter can see his target in a monitor.

"If they need some kind of device to assist them, we try to get them set up," Kristi Meyer said.

To date, the couple has taken in about $5,000 in donations over the past five years. Most of the cost of hunts and adaptive devices has been paid for out of their own pocket.

They don't live an extravagant life, so as Derrick Meyer's business ventures succeed, he is able to take more families out. But they are starting to get more applications than they have money, and costs for an adventure are rising, so they are at the stage where they need to do some fundraising.

"Our ultimate goal is an outdoor resort that is all wheelchair accessible," Kristi Meyer said.

"We want to have it here, somewhere in southern Iowa. It's not (going to be) just about hunting or fishing," Derrick Meyer said. "It's about anything in the outdoors."

Kristi Meyer said part of what helps bring the youngsters out of their shell is her husband's sense of humor - he has no reservations about teasing a youngster when they fall asleep while waiting for a deer, and they in turn will tease him about his lack of cooking skills.

"You never hear these kids complain; they're just happy to be out there doing something," Derrick Meyer said. "It makes you think about some of the things we complain about. (In fact), a lot of these kids want to come back and help other kids."

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