POWELL – After years of waiting for the chance to catch a big game, Dylan Lessleyoung was amazed at how quickly his pronghorn hunt went from saddling to catching a nice buck.
“It happened so quickly,” he said after snapping a perfect shot in the foothills near Meeteetse.
It took the South Dakota man nine years to realize his dream. While the morning hunt was quick, it took him many years to tenaciously search for the right gear to give him the opportunity with his disability.
Just getting dressed in the morning for Lessleyoung takes more of her time than most. He’s quadriplegic, but that hasn’t deterred his love of the great outdoors or the thrill of the hunt.
Not until he came to the Cowboy State as a guest from Wyoming Disabled Hunter that it was a possibility.
The athlete had been hunting birds before the near-fatal car accident that broke his neck. He was young, just out of high school, and between sports and the typical pleasures of youth had yet to take the time needed for serious hunting. After his accident, Lessleyoung worried that he would never hunt again.
His high school football team had won back-to-back state championships in 2011 and 2012 with an aggregate score of 82-0.
The tight end was dedicated to teammates and friends – seemingly an all-American story with a trajectory of future success.
However, few lives are as rosy as they seem.
His life, like most, was complicated. First of all, it is incorrect to describe the wreck that cost him the use of his body below the neck as an accident.
“My car accident was actually a suicide attempt,” Lessleyoung said the night before his big adventure. “I was 18 years old and I found myself in a very dark place. I thought that was the only way out.”
Lessleyoung was on his way home to his hometown of Dell Rapids from the Mitchell Technical Institute, police reports said. He was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from the vehicle. Alcohol was suspected to have played a role in the accident involving a car.
He was distraught after a friend killed himself in a very public way. He then found himself alone after a breakup.
“It was about a girl,” Lessleyoung’s stepfather, Trent Fischer, said. “It was a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
Raised in a single parent home, he was expected from an early age to be the man of the house in a state that expects western strength in men. Fischer came into his life shortly after his accident.
It wasn’t until Lessleyoung became paralyzed that he began to understand his feelings.
“In the years since the accident, I’ve learned that it’s okay to open up and reach out to people. And it’s okay to cry,” he said.
Now he wears his heart on his sleeve and looks for new ways to help those who are in a dark place and afraid to share their feelings. He is an important voice at a time when there is far too much suicide among our youth.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 in the United States. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 20% of high school students report serious suicidal thoughts and 9% have attempted suicide.
Lessleyoung now has a Facebook group called Wheelchair Adventures. His aim is to provide inspiration and information for wheelchair users and he hopes to help people with disabilities have outdoor opportunities as he knows the healing properties first hand.
He understands the healing nature of nature, especially for those who need a hand up. He wants to use his unintended disability education to help others experience the calm of a sunrise or the feel of a fish at the end of a line.
He applied to participate in this year’s Wyoming Disabled Hunters outing and after scoring the non-resident ‘antelope’ mark he was invited to join the group. Originally paralyzed from the neck down, Lessleyoung is now able to move his right shoulder and use his right arm with limitations.
Only about one-fifth of program applicants can join the nonprofit group’s staff on the specially guided hunts. The process is a year-long effort by dedicated volunteers dedicated to making the hunting opportunities possible.
“These people give their heart and soul every year,” said Board Member Marvin Blakesly.
His respect for his fellow volunteers was evident as his voice was choked with emotion.
“We have nine board members who work 24/7 every year to make this a reality for our hunters,” he said.
There are a lot of moving parts that people don’t often see: from landowners to companion hunters, cooks, shelters, meat processors, taxidermists, and those willing to be tough on the specialized logistics required to set up a hunt for to make those in life successful. change disabilities. They are all volunteers.
“When everything finally comes together and you see the smile [the hunter’s] Faces, it’s worth it,” he said.
Bryce Fauskee, the organization’s vice president, who has served as a volunteer and on the group’s board of directors since its inception, said hunting is “good for the soul.”
“You go out and make new friends and interact with the wildlife. And there’s nothing quite like that feeling when you’re about to take that shot.”
Fauskee said no nonprofits like Wyoming Disabled Hunters who invite hunters from all over the country to apply, people with disabilities may never have a chance to experience outdoor sports.
“Logistics can be very difficult for hunters with disabilities, so it’s great to have programs that can help them get them done,” he said.
Fauskee, who was born with myelomeningocele spina bifida, could have qualified for one of the group’s hunts but instead used his talents in the field and office as a volunteer.
Raised in a family with a deep respect for the great outdoors, Fauskee has never let his disability get in the way of a good hunt or a backcountry trail ride. He has been a program manager for the Wyoming Services for Independent Living transportation program for the past 15 years and has been a volunteer with the group for the past 14 years.
His parents, Bonnie and Bruce Fauskee, also volunteer with the organization.
Lessleyoung once had moments of panic in Wyoming.
His special equipment reacted when attempting to zero his .243 rifle and scope. He uses a mount from a company called Be Adaptive. It allows him to aim his weapon with his chin using a joystick. He can only pull the trigger with a device called the “Sip and Puff Trigger”. His oscilloscope connects to his phone via Bluetooth and is temporarily attached to his chair.
The goal of Be Adaptive is to help people with physical disabilities get back to their favorite pastimes like hunting, shooting, fishing, archery and photography. The company designs and manufactures activity rests, shooting rests for rifles, shotguns, pistols, crossbows and compound bows, adaptive fishing gear, hand controls and elevators for ATVs, and much more.
The team in Wyoming Disabled Hunters is savvy with the technology and, thanks to generous donors, has equipment to take wheelchair users backcountry. But back home, Lessleyoung hasn’t found them widely available. He wants to change that and take what he learned in Wyoming back to his home state.
“I’d love to set up something like this at home someday,” he said. “Right now the main goal is to show people the adaptive devices that are out there. A lot of people don’t even know that this equipment is available to them, or can’t afford it.”
Wyoming Disabled Hunters is looking for volunteers for its program. Many positions are needed, especially hunt companions, said Terry Skinner, president of the group.
Several companies have helped acquire the specialized equipment needed to conduct the hunts. Alpine Medical in Powell recently donated a Hoyer lift that can be used to lift and transport a person with a minimum of physical effort.
The Paul Stock Foundation, the Park County Recreation Board, and Wyoming Outdoorsmen have also made important contributions.
For more information about volunteering or donating, visit wyomingdisabledhunters.org.