My wife returned from a trip to town recently and told me she’d bumped into the McAfees at the store and that their daughter, Tori, told her to be sure to remind me of the National Wild Turkey Federation banquet the following Saturday night.
I smiled at the thought that a 9-year-old girl was committed enough to her local NWTF chapter to remind her county conservation agent of its upcoming banquet, and regretted not being able to attend because I had to go somewhere else that night.
A couple of weeks later I was working a Conservation Department booth at an outdoor sports show in West Plains, and was talking to someone when I saw Tori’s mother come in the door. A few seconds later, I spotted Tori standing next to her. She was looking directly at me to catch my eye. I made a goofy face, and Tori returned the favor.
A bit later, I walked over and said, “Where’s my hug?” When Tori lifted her arms and said, “Well, right here, Bud,” I hardly noticed the crutches on her arms or the braces on her legs. We visited a minute before I had to return to work the booth.
Tori was born with spina bifida. She has undergone two surgeries and has a shunt to help her body deal with fluid build-up. Tori goes to St. Louis for check-ups every six months. Although Tori has braces on both legs she is able to get around pretty well with crutches. The twice-weekly trips she and her family make to West Plains for both physical and aquatic therapy have obviously helped strengthen her legs.
Tori is in the fourth grade at Winona Elementary School. She admits to not liking the “pile of homework” she gets on the two days a week she leaves school early to go for her physical and aquatic therapy and to sometimes giving her parents, “especially Dad,” a hard time. She says she wants to be a dancer, a doctor or a waitress when she grows up.
In other words, Tori is just an ordinary girl. When I sat down with her and her parents, Margaret and Troy, that’s what she most wanted people to know about her. She said, “Tell them I’m just like everyone else and can do everything they do, just maybe in a different way.”
Tori loves the outdoors. She’s a Jakes member of the Current River Callers Chapter of the NWTF. She took her first turkey, an adult gobbler, during the 2007 Spring Turkey season. A life-sized mount of the turkey is proudly displayed in the family home.
Tori is also a deer hunter. She shot her first deer—a button buck—during the 2006 Youth Season, then took a 6-point buck during the 2007 Firearms Season. “First Turkey” and “First Deer” certificates issued by the Conservation Department hang in the family living room near a picture of 4-year-old Tori with her first fish, a 2-pound spotted bass. It’s her father’s favorite picture.
Hunting and fishing “success” to the McAfees doesn’t require taking an animal. Tori had fallen and broken a leg before the 2005 Youth Deer season opened. Even though she was confined to a wheelchair with her leg in a cast, she still managed to hunt.
Margaret wheeled Tori into a hunting blind large enough for the three of them. Hunting blinds help conceal movement but do little to quiet noise. The McAfee family admitted to being noisy enough to spook an incoming buck, which Tori subsequently missed. The family enjoyed the outing, though. “We have so much fun it’s ridiculous,” Troy said.
Troy said deer hunting didn’t really pose any problems for Tori because they usually can get on a good stand location and wait for the deer to come to them. Turkey hunting is a bit more challenging, especially on public land, as it is often necessary to move to a turkey’s location.
“We always find a way, though,” Margaret said.
Troy has modified an electric golf cart to address the mobility issue, and the family tends to turkey hunt more on private lands so that they won’t bother other hunters.
To help them “find a way,” the Conservation Department is committed to making its programs, services and outdoor resources accessible to everyone. Although it cannot guarantee such access to all its sites and properties, the Department is working throughout the state to remove barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from enjoying the outdoors. The effort includes constructing facilities and renovating older ones to provide better access to Department areas, buildings and shooting ranges.
Accessibility features available at specific Conservation Areas are listed in the Department booklet Disabled-Accessible Outdoors. The booklet is available online at www.MissouriConservation.org/2293 or write to MDC, Disable Accessible Outdoors, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The above Web address also allows you to quickly find areas that have facilities accessible to people with disabilities.
Conservation Department regulations also allow some hunting method exemptions, such the use of a crossbow in lieu of a longbow and hunting from a stationary vehicle, that allow people with disabilities to participate in outdoor recreation. Contact your local conservation agent for details or applications.
It may require a little extra effort for Tori to enjoy the outdoors, but her family helps her in every way it can, and accessible Conservation Department lands and facilities give her a chance to follow her “calling” and hunt and fish to her heart’s content.
Even though the McAfees take unusual steps to help Tori, they are pleased to have the opportunity. “Tori has been a very pleasant child to raise,” Margaret said toward the end of our conversation. “She’s just got a positive attitude every day, and she loves people.”
If you happen to find yourself in the Shannon County area and spot a beautiful young lady getting around with braces and crutches, introduce yourself. Keep in mind though, she might try to sell you a ticket for an NWTF fundraiser or tell you about her most recent hunting or fishing trip. That’s the way Tori is—just an ordinary outdoor girl.
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