A popular saying states, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
For 11-year-old Braden Massey of Dyersburg, Tenn., one of those moments came last September. And two local men shared it with him.
Crippled since birth with a rare condition, arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, Braden has no use of his arms or legs. He’s been using wheelchairs since the age of 3. However, he long has dreamed of going bear hunting.
After his mother, Kelley, made a connection with United Special Sportsman Alliance Inc., that dream came true.
USSA is a nonprofit national volunteer organization based in Pittsville, Wis., that specializes in sending critically ill and disabled youth and disabled veterans on outdoor adventures.
“Last year I was contacted by this group and was asked if I would be interested in taking a child on a bear hunt,” Hixson resident Don Oscia related. “I got off the phone and I knew I was the one. I called [Brigid O’Donoghue, the founder and president of USSA] back in about two weeks and told her that I would be willing.”
The bear hunt was a first for Oscia, too. It’s turkey hunting that he loves. In fact, the 51-year-old owner of Oscia Construction is president of the local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
“I tell people I hunt feathers, not fur,” he said.
To help with the bear quest he called his friend Terry McGregor, a former TV cameraman who works for Unum Provident, and asked how he felt about making a road trip with him. Oscia wanted to make sure this special hunt was on video for the young Massey to enjoy in the years to come.
After a “let’s go” from McGregor, the two drove Sept. 25 to Nashville, where they met Kelley and Braden. Traveling 1,178 miles with one night’s lodging in a hotel, the four reached little Drummond, Wis.
Oscia described Drummond as “a town with two bars and a church. … There is nothing there except a forest.”
USSA arranged for funding for the $2,700 trip, and the required bear tag was donated as well, Oscia said.
“In Wisconsin it takes eight years to get a bear tag, so somebody donated their bear tag for this hunt of a lifetime,” he explained.
Using a hunting guide service with dogs, the four hit the woods on Sept. 27, a Friday, but the bears the dogs treed were too far from the road to allow Braden access. However, the next day they treed one about 65 yards from the road.
Oscia attempted to get Braden there by pulling him through the woods in the youth’s wheelchair.
“We take the portable wheelchair and I don’t go five yards until a guy starts cutting limbs. Then there are about 15 people in the woods. They just came from everywhere to help,” Oscia marveled.
He said the hunting guides had used a citizens band radio to tell where they were, and that brought the crowd of Drummond residents to help the young hunter experience his first bear kill.
“Everybody was just clearing the path for Don and Braden. It was absolutely amazing,” the mother recounted.
However, due to Braden’s condition he was not able to fire the gun.
“They put him in my lap and they broke a limb off of a tree for us to rest the gun in. I actually pulled the trigger,” Kelley said. “It was an experience that we got to share that day that we will never forget.
“It would have never been possible without Don and Terry.”
That was not the first time Braden had been hunting. Sitting in a stand, he had hunted for deer and turkey twice before.
“I have to say getting to go on the bear hunt was the most fun,” he said.
Oscia was amazed at watching the young hunter sign the bear tag — holding a pen in his mouth.
“It was absolutely an astounding trip. It took a hour and a half to tell everybody goodbye,” Oscia said.
Contact Gary Petty at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6291.