After Jim Hardy realized falling from a treestand and being paralyzed didn’t mean the end of his life, he decided to make sure other folks enjoyed the same outdoors experiences he did as a hunter and angler.
By Alan Clemons, Southern Managing Editor
Hardy was in college at Auburn University in Alabama when his treestand accident occurred. Now paralyzed from the waist down, the gets around pretty handily in a wheelchair and his arms. Rough terrain? If it’s not too bad, Hardy will bump and grind right along. Flat surfaces? He’s pretty zippy.
Heck, he crawls around when need be. The night before his first big bass tournament a few years ago — Hardy’s competitive and sponsored by NetBait, among others — he couldn’t sleep. So, he decided to go mess around with his fishing tackle in the parking lot. When he pulled himself up on the tailgate of his pickup to get a tackle box, his wheelchair rolled away from him after he forgot to set the brake.
“I was crawling across the parking lot at 2 a.m. hoping a car didn’t come driving through,” he said. “That wasn’t the last time I forgot to set the brake, but it hasn’t happened often since then.”
He’s also a gear nut. Hardy will tinker with anything related to hunting, fishing or his home to try to improve it. If he can find a hunting vehicle, like the one he recently signed on with through Global Extreme Mobility in Alabama, he’ll put it through its paces. If it’s a rifle or deer gear, he’ll give it a try. Hand him a crankbait or some different soft plastic fishing lures, and he’ll have something unique done to them before long.
“I’ve just always enjoyed working with my hands, trying to figure out things,” he said. “Before my accident I’d try different things hunting if it was something I was interested in. If it worked, great. If not then I’d think how to make it work and try. I just enjoy different things like that.”
Hardy owns property in southeast Alabama and hosts youngsters on deer hunts. Box blinds on the ground, with ramps to accommodate his wheelchair, on well-maintained food plots make it easy for kids and adults to enjoy a hunt. From his days of hunting and climbing in stands to now, on the ground, he has a different perspective on things.
For the last couple of deer seasons Hardy also has hosted a group of young hunters with disabilities at his annual Outdoor Friends Forever foundation hunts. Part of the reason for his foundation and youth hunts stemmed from a similar fishing event he helps with in Birmingham each year at Oak Mountain State Park.
“I want to find out about the kid when they’re at home. Do they like video games, Moon Pies or whatever?” Hardy said. “Doing things outdoors is supposed to be fun and enjoyable, for anyone. You put a fishing rod in their hands and once they realize they can do it on their own, they light up. They realize they can do it.
“It’s the same thing we see at the shooting range. A gun is a scary thing to them until they get to the range, get some help and then start shooting. Then we usually end up shooting until we run out of ammunition.”
The annual Outdoor Friends Forever hunts, in December and January, have seen quadriplegics, paraplegics, blind and deaf children, “just about anything you can think of,” Hardy says. “We have a fantastic group of volunteers who help out, who enjoy spending time with the kids and their families. We laugh, have fun, go to the shooting range, hunt and have a great time. Every child who has participated has killed a deer.
“I could tell you stories all day long, but you can’t understand it until you see it in person. If they kill a deer that excitement level amplifies everything times 10. I’ve seen everything from crying and thanking their parents and Jesus to being so excited they literally couldn’t stand still. The emotion is something you can’t hide. When you see 40- to 60-year old men getting torn up because the child they’re helping is having such a great time, it’s an impact.”
For information about Hardy’s organization, visit www.outdoorfriendsforever.org/