By Chad Waligura ~
We made it to the second floor ballroom at Mandalay Bay Casino just in time to witness both 2015 Pathfinder recipients, Monica Kamal & Kirk Thomas, take the stage and receive their awards. It was a fitting end to a long day spent at the Safari Club’s National Convention and also the reason I’d flown out to Las Vegas in early February. (For the record, I don’t need any reason to go Vegas.) It was also a fitting end to both of Monica & Kirk’s year of dedicating their time & effort to help challenged sportsmen in need.
Ever since winning the Pathfinder myself 5 years ago, I’ve been paying closer attention to the SCI Foundation and trying to get the word out about what they are doing in the disabled hunting community. For one thing, they’re the only ones who recognize accomplished hunters. They’re the only organization putting the spotlight on people who have been getting others get back into the field and on the water.
But SCI Foundation does a lot more than merely present awards. It runs something called the “blue bag” program through which hunters supply kids in impoverished countries with clothes, school supplies & sports equipment (to name a few). It also supports projects in wildlife conservation & education, and of course the humanitarian services where the Pathfinder program was found.
In the obscure world of disabled hunting, this is the biggest recognition out there, and getting the word out about the Pathfinder is vital to its existence. For one thing, it’s important to honor those who have worked hard to help other people enjoy the outdoors as much as we do. And secondly, they want to reach as many deserving candidates as they can.
Monica and Kirk are two such people. Monica began the Madison Spinal Cord Injury group, which is now a chapter of the United Spinal Association, organizing peer/mentoring activities which includes planning & advocating for adaptive recreational opportunities. She founded Access Ability Wisconsin, an organization dedicated to promoting opportunities for challenged sportsmen and women to enjoy the state’s natural resources by providing access to all-terrain trackchairs. And as a hunter education instructor, she has helped organize youth hunts and pheasant hunts for veterans and others with mobility issues. Kirk founded the well-known Wheelin’ Sportsmen organization, and later an entirely new one called Outdoors Without Limits. He’s single-handedly responsible for 100’s of hunting, fishing, shooting & archery events that take place across the majority of the Southeast. To learn more about these two Pathfinder Award recipients, go to the SCI website.
Back to the banquet, the rest of the night was spent eating, drinking & being merry while the Safari Club raised money for various causes in the background. This was all before Ron White came on to entertain the packed house, and he didn’t disappoint.
There are two things related to this entry that I want to point out before signing off: 1. Las Vegas is one of, if not the most, accessible city in the world and I plan on writing a full article on what to expect when travelling there. And 2. With the Pathfinder comes a 10-day safari in Southern Africa, and one of the most common questions I get when it comes to travel is how to survive the long ones like this. Expect more information on this subject as well.