I love to hunt big game. Here in Wyoming, I get opportunities to hunt mule deer and elk. In 2013, I took my first bull elk with a rifle. That was probably my favorite hunt. Antelope hunting is another one of my passions.
I'm paralyzed from the waist down, but that hasn’t stopped me from hunting and fishing. Anytime I have to go over rugged terrain or creeks or up mountains, I use my Action TrackChair. This chair can stand me up, so I can fly fish or shoot standing up. With this chair, I can drive into water about 18-inches deep. If I have to make long casts, using the TrackChair makes fly fishing much easier, because I can wade out into streams in it. Most of the time, I can land my own fish, but my husband or my daughter are usually close by to land the fish, if I need them to do so.
One of the questions I'm often asked is, “How did you get hurt?” In 1999, I was in a ranching accident when I was 16-years old at a camp here in Cody, Wyoming. I had climbed up into a hay rack to pull the hay out to feed some of the animals on the ranch. As I was getting the hay from the hay loft down to the ground, I reached over to get a big clump of hay that had fallen off the hay bale. I reached down to pick up the hay, lost my balance and fell. I actually landed on the wooden handle of the pitchfork I had been using, and I blew out my T12 vertebra. If you feel your last rib and follow it all the way around to your back, that is your T12 vertebra, and that damaged my spinal cord.
I was very active before my injury. I was a four-sport athlete in Indianapolis, Indiana. My sports included volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, fast-pitch softball in the spring and slow-pitch softball in the summer months. At that time, I really hadn’t gotten into hunting. I was mostly involved in athletics, but I loved the outdoors. I enjoyed hiking and camping, and I took every opportunity to be outdoors.
The first few months after my accident, I would have to define my life as pretty dark. I really felt like my life was over. I didn’t think I would be able to be active anymore, and I certainly didn’t think I’d be able to go outdoors anymore. But with the support of my family and friends, and by changing my attitude, I started to realize that although my life would look differently from what it had in the past, my life wasn’t over. It just needed to be redefined. So, I finished high school, went to college and got two degrees - an undergraduate degree in public affairs and a master’s degree in Biblical counseling.
Before my accident, I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. I’d always loved puzzles, fixing things, putting broken things back together and helping people. I thought that being an orthopedic surgeon would be a great way to take all the things I liked to do and earn a living doing them. However, after my accident, I realized my dream of being an orthopedic surgeon had ended. But I knew one of the things I still wanted to do and could do was help people. I was very interested to see how I was going to reach that goal. I had a really encouraging family who told me, “Ashlee, you can do anything you want to do.” So, any hare-brained idea I came up with, my family just said, “Go do it.”