River Currents

by Free Speech on May 22, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI-5/22/09
by Gary Engberg
©2009 GaryEngberg Outdoors

The Austin Shuler Story

A few months back, I became familiar with Austin Shuler’s courageous story from John Nachreiner of Sauk City, Wisconsin. John, being an avid outdoorsman, had applied for a Wisconsin bear hunting permit the last 10 years before he finally receiving one for the fall of 2008. But, due to unseen circumstances John wasn’t going to be able to go on his hunt in northern Wisconsin.
John happened to tell Wally Banfi of the Wilderness Fish and Game store in Sauk City about his dilemma and Wally promptly put John in touch with a local hunter and outdoorsman, Dale Reeve, who in turn put Nachreiner in touch with bear hunter Steve Salmon of Mazomanie. This turned out to be a great piece of networking! Salmon is a member of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association and a group of bear hunters and guides called the Stoney Lonesome Bear Hunters. Steve had helped the United Special Sportsman Alliance (www.childswish.com) before their annual picnic at the headquarters in Pittsville, Wisconsin. Steve’s wife is a cousin of the group’s founder, Brigid O’Donoghue. The game plan was to take Austin on a bear hunt in Wisconsin using the bear tag that John Nachreiner had donated to the U.S.S.A. for a critically ill child. Later, I’ll tell you more about this great and Christian-based organization.
Austin Shuler was a normal child prior to his tumor and cancer diagnosis that spent most of his free time in the outdoors either fishing or hunting when not in school. The family lived on a small farm in Indiana with an assortment of animals including; horses, chickens, and a calf that Austin was raising as a 4-H project. He also shot skeet, trap, and sporting clays with his grandfather, Lee, in Friendship, Indiana and was proficient enough to hold several national titles. Austin’s plan for the future was to go to a college that had a shooting sports team and hopefully get a scholarship for his shooting prowess. His ultimate goal was to become a store manager for Cabela’s which would most likely require him to have a college degree.
But, most if not all off Austin’s dreams were put on hold after he was diagnosed with Disseminated Medulloblastoma (brain and spinal cancer) in November of 2005. He had a cancerous brain tumor which had spread down to his spine and was given a 40 to 50% chance of survival. Since the initial surgery, Austin has had 2 more brain surgeries, 2 other surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. His wonderful mother, Marlene, told me in an email that a MRI Austin had in October showed no new signs of cancer! But, this teenager has had to live with the log term effects of his treatments which include scar tissue that is growing on his lungs from the spinal radiation, damage to his endocrine system making him dependent for the rest of his life on medications, chronic pain, and short term memory loss. There is no known cure for this malady and Austin fights daily fatigue. He has been able to maintain the knowledge he had before his operations, but adding new information is difficult. Marlene went on to say that Austin had 76 medical appointments in 2008 alone and this is 2 years after the first operation. To quote Marlene, “Austin’s road has been long and hard. Most days, he fights for his life or suffers from depression. Being confined to a hospital bed for over a year took its tool on his spirits. He went from a kid looking forward to a college education to now we aren’t even sure that he will graduate from high school.” BUT, Austin tries not to let any of this get him down!
The social worker from Austin’s hospital told Marlene about the United Special Sportsman Alliance (U.S.S.A.) and steered them to the organizations website (www.childswish.com). I can’t say enough great things about the group and its founder and President Brigid O’Donoghue after talking to Marlene and viewing the Alliance’s website. Brigid started the non-profit “dream wish” granting charity in September of 2000 and since then last sent over 2500 critically ill and disabled youths on the outdoor adventure of their dreams. These outdoor adventures have included; free hunting, fishing, camping, and canoeing trips for the children and their families. These adventures provide a temporary “retreat” for the family from their troubles, illnesses, and doctor appointments. Most of these families are financially strained and cannot afford to take a vacation. The U.S.S.A. does its work for the entire family who all suffer from the stress of having a loved one infirmed. If only for a few days, the child and their family can forget the illness, the stress, the operations, and their unsure future while having some fun in the outdoors doing an activity that they had “wished’ to do in their dreams.

Austin Shuler, with Guide Steve Salmon and his bear

Austin Shuler, with Guide Steve Salmon and his bear

The United Special Sportsman Alliance and Brigid O’Donoghue pay the expenses for the trips and outings from the donations and gifts that the corporate and individual sponsors give to the U.S.S.A. Individuals may join the organization and donations are always welcome and appreciated. Put this group on your list of worth-while groups that promote the outdoors, give outdoorsmen a better image, and help whose in need through the “magic” of the outdoors. As I just said, corporate and individual sponsors make the adventures and wishes possible. But, all of the other work and organization come from a 100% volunteer staff. The corporate sponsors include; Bio-tech Research, Bass Pro Shops, Brett Favre Forward Foundation, Safari Clubs International, Mathews, Inc., Texas Trophy Hunters, Texas Deer Association, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Whitetails Unlimited, and the Exotic Wildlife Association.
Austin’s mother, Marlene, filled out the group’s application and waited in anticipation to hear from O’Donoghue. Soon, Brigid contacted Marlene and Austin to let them know that he had been approved for a bear hunt in Wisconsin. They spoke for several hours that first night and Marlene knew that she had found a friend for life in Brigid. Once you become connected with the U.S.S.A., they become “family” to you. The bear hunt was still months away, so Brigid asked if Austin would like to attend a fishing event at Rend Lake, Illinois with the Pro Cat Anglers and Denny Halgren. Austin was overjoyed and had trouble sleeping for the week before the fishing outing where he caught some catfish, made many new friends, and the entire family had a wonderful get-away if only for a day or two at the Rend Lake Resort.
Austin’s bear hunt was scheduled to begin in the morning of September 10, 2008 which turned out to be the day after his 15th birthday. The family traveled 12 hours from Indiana to the northern Wisconsin town of Winter. That evening, the family was welcomed to the bear camp and met their guide for the hunt, Steve Salmon. The group went to bed after midnight, but Austin was still up at 5:00 am ready for his hunt.
The bear guides were using dogs to track and treed two bears before Austin shot and killed the third bear seen late that afternoon. The first bear that they saw was too small and the second was a mother with cubs. Austin’s bear was shot from 20 yards and killed with one slug from his 12 gauge shotgun.
After field dressing the bear (with Austin’s help), it was weighed and tipped the scales at 273 pounds. Brian Bectal, a taxidermist from Crawfordsville, Indiana, donated a half-body mount so that Austin could show the unique white patch on his trophy’s chest. The mount is now proudly displayed in the family’s living room. Austin’s successful bear hunt made him an instant celebrity in their Indiana town. I read Austin’s letter thanking John Nachreiner for the bear tag and starting his dream hunt adventure.
None of this would have been possible without the hard work of many individuals who even took time off work so that Austin could have his hunting “wish” come true. Start with John Nachreiner who donated the bear tag to Brigid O’Donoghue and the U.S.S.A. to Guide Steve Salmon, and the many others who helped make a teenager forget his illness and problems for a few days while spending quality in the outdoors with his loving family. In closing here are Austin’s mother, Marlene thoughts, “The words Thank You will never be enough to fully express the gratitude that this young man and his family feel”. Guide Steve Salmon told me that it was “heart-touching to be able to help someone who may never be able to do it again. It was a tear-jerking experience that his group is looking forward to doing again”.
Since the bear hunt, Austin has also been on a deer hunt and a turkey hunt in Junction City, Wisconsin. Recently, Austin had a cyst discovered that initially was 4 mm in size, but has grown to 7 mm or the size of a pea. The future remains uncertain, but Austin is a warrior and this won’t get him down or diminish his dreams. Be sure to check and support the following websites;
•    The United Special Sportsman Alliance (U.S.S.A.) www.childswish.com
•    www.caringbridgge.org/visit/austinshuler
You may read Austin’s daily dairy on Caring Bridge.org.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Previous post:

Next post: