Safari Club International’s 39th Convention & the Pathfinder Award
By Chad Waligura
The Pathfinder Award – When an individual is faced with overcoming a physical challenge or disability that is capable of blocking the “routine” way forward through life, (including hunting and shooting), he or she must discover previously unexplored regions of self-esteem, self-worth, courage, persistence, and determination. Through trial and error, success and failure, the pathfinder, with a “never quit” attitude, works hard to discover his or her own way through life. Annually, the world’s most accomplished hunters recognize this individual as an ambassador for other “pathfinders” seeking leadership and promise when faced with similar challenges. There is no common path; each individual’s journey is unique and sacred.
Reno, NV –-(Ammoland.com)- Our plane touched down in Reno, NV, about 10:30am, and I’m really excited to finally be here for Safari Club’s National convention.
Ever since last August, when I found out I had been selected for the Pathfinder award, I’d been looking forward to this weekend.
To give you some background info, I’m a C-7 quadriplegic from a diving accident in 1986, and every year the Pathfinder is given to accomplished disabled hunters who have also helped lead others back into the outdoors.
This year it’s me.
My ‘entourage’ of family and friends loaded onto the shuttle to Harrah’s downtown, but since I’d have to wait at least a half hour for the accessible one, dad and I hailed a cab. Safari Club has a room booked for me at the Peppermill hotel closer to the convention hall, but all of my ‘people’ are all staying at Harrah’s.
The weather is beyond perfect, cool & sunny, and after lunch, I took the shuttle over to the SCI convention at the Reno-Sparks convention hall. I found Eva Wilson at the Humanitarian Services Booth which is home base for the Pathfinder winners. She made me feel like a V.I.P. and took me over to meet Jan Oelofse of Oelofse Safaris. He’s the PH that will be hosting me on my 10-day safari in June as part of my award. I met Jan, who is a legend of the safari world due to his early work capturing animals for zoos, guiding John Wayne, and training animals for the movie Hatari. He and his wife Annette and his son Alex are fantastic people with a passion for hunting and I can tell right away how lucky I am to be going with them. Alex and I talked hunting and he showed me some pics from past disabled hunters that they’ve hosted at Oelofse. We also talked about the possibility of me bringing my crossbow when I come. Booyah!
Alex then took me over to the Highveld taxidermy booth to meet Thomas. When I found out that they’d be donating the taxidermy for my safari, my excitement level that day blew off the charts.
The SCI convention is flat out huge, easily the biggest and best I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t stay long today because I had to meet my ‘people’ for dinner and then get back to the Peppermill to check in and start my therapy. I did spot Col. Craig Boddington of Tracks Across Africa fame signing books on my way out.
Friday – January 28 – Dad and I made it over to the convention hall about 9:40 in the morning. Again, Eva Wilson was waiting for us at the Humanitarian Services booth, as was Ron Bartels (co-vice chairman of disabled hunter/ pathfinder award.)
Ron lead us back to the Oelofse’s booth so I could introduce my dad to Jan & Annette and so Ron could present Jan with yet another donor plaque for his generosity toward the program. Dad bought Jan’s book and we had another exciting talk about hunting in Namibia. Alex and I discussed the logistics of going after a mountain zebra on my safari. I’m pumped!
When we were done there, Ron recommended we head over to Jim Shockey’s booth so we could meet him and talk about hunting. Ron has hunted several times with Jim and I’m convinced he must know almost everybody that’s worth knowing at this convention. Someone stops to talk to Ron about every ten steps. He said both Jim and his daughter Eva were there earlier (and that Eva is really “worth meeting.”) They weren’t there though. Rumor has it that Jim had slipped away to book a few hunts for himself before his wife Louise could stop him.
From there, Dad and I left Ron to browse through the myriad of outfitters, artists, merchants, taxidermists, TV personalities and auction items that were spread out among the four different rooms. The place is big, especially when you’re pushing a wheelchair to get around. It’s also one of the highest quality shows I’ve ever seen. A person could literally spend two days here looking at just the art and the taxidermy alone.
By accident, we came upon the African Hunting Gazette booth next. As I rolled up, I asked the lady behind the counter if the next issue was out, to which she replied, “Yes, and you’re in there. Don’t worry.” Ha! I wasn’t expecting her to recognize me. I didn’t know she was the person in charge of article submissions. Needless to say, she surprised me and now y’all know I have a published article in one of the African safari magazines. They gave me a few copies and we were on our way. And oh by the way, they had a full body mounted porcupine at the booth that was a gorgeous specimen. I’m adding that to my wish list for Namibia this summer.
Friday night – It’s a little bit awe inspiring to roll into the Tuscany Ballroom at the Peppermill hotel where the dinner events are held. The room is vast, which seems to be the theme of everything I’ve been to this week. I had no idea this award was so prestigious until now. Almost 3,000 people will be seated for the dinner/show/auction tonight. The Safari Club will be presenting me with the Pathfinder award which is the reason I’m in Reno this weekend.
I’m quickly ushered to one of the head tables near stage left, the Pathfinder table. There, I had the pleasure of sitting by Ron Bartels’ lovely wife Jackie, both of whom are from Louisiana. Naturally, we got along great since half my family is from there. My group of friends and family were right nearby. The party was just getting started.
Before I knew it, I was backstage with Alex watching the video that they had made about me before I was to be presented the Pathfinder onstage. And let me tell you, I was 50/50 on whether I was going to cry or not when I got out there. I was already tearing up when the video started. It’s hard to believe the journey to this spot began almost 25 years ago with some cloth tape and a flimsy metal device they sent me home with from the rehab (designed for holding a pen). There have been a lot of ups and downs and lessons learned along the way.
- Learning takes the sting out of failure.
- When your life is changed by a tragic event, as soon as you find some meaning in that journey, it ceases to be a tragedy.
I have to thank my mom & dad first. Lord knows they sacrificed more than they had to so that I could go and do as much as I wanted to, which usually meant hunting, or travel, or both. I also have to thank the Safari Club Foundation for creating an award in the obscure field we call disabled hunting, and all the donors who support its programs: Oelofse Safaris, Sandhurst Safaris, Highveld taxidermy, Fauna & Flora shipping and Cabela’s.
Saturday night – Just like last night, the place was jam-packed with suit-n-tie wearing hunters from all over the world. What I found particularly interesting about the guys I’ve met is that most of them leave the country for three or four months at a time to hunt, and they’ll make 4 or 5 different countries during that time. It’s no wonder every award winner that steps to the podium gives thanks to their wives first.
SCI presented the Hall of Fame award, the International Hunter of the Year award & the Diana award (for outstanding female hunter) to get the night going. I’m starting to realize that there’s a whole ‘nother level of hunting that goes on around here. Different than what I’m used to at least.
One of the night’s surprises was Larry Potterfield. He gave a rousing speech about the direction of our great country and the important roles that the people of the Safari Club and the NRA should play in leading it. I always thought Larry was merely a gunsmithing guy who paid for a lot of Midway USA commercials on the Outdoor Channel, but he was really inspiring. He even had to assure the audience that he wasn’t running for office. It was that kind of speech.
The bar was set for ‘former’ governor Palin to come out and she hit the stage running. She talked enthusiastically about hunting, conservation and politics of course. All without taking many breaths I might add. She continued the theme of making our country better and what she believes it’ll take to get that done. She also took a few swings at the current regime in Washington, much to the delight of the crowd. Gov. Palin explained how her upbringing in Alaska and how connected her family is to the land. It’s no wonder that hardly anything the media dishes out phases her. She concluded and walked off to her second standing ovation.
Thus ended our SCI festivities for the weekend. It was a whirlwind to say the least, and I came away with a new belief in the importance of SCI and the NRA when it comes to protecting our privileges of hunting & shooting. I can hardly wait until next year.
Chad Waligura. Chad is the Editor of Disabled Hunter Magazine. Visit: www.dhuntmag.com