Saturday, April 24, 2010

Connellsville native Mays receives outdoors honor

By Jason Black, DAILY COURIER, Monday, April 19, 2010 Edward Mays, like many others growing up in Connellsville, spent much of his youth hunting and fishing in area forests and streams. His love of the outdoors has continued to have a profound impact on his life, even after he suffered a difficult and life-altering experience. Mays, now a resident of Nags Head, N.C., was the winner of the 2009 Safari Club International Pathfinder Award, which is presented to a disabled sportsman who triumphs over their obstacles while working to improve the lives of others with disabilities. Mays received an all-expense paid trip to South Africa for a 10-day safari. Mays and his family will travel to London in July, then to South Africa for the safari and then to Paris. "I've never done anything for accolades," Mays said. "I do it for the smiles." Mays' childhood and adolescent years were very similar to many other area youths. "I grew up in a family that was always in the outdoors," Mays said. In 1979, Mays left Connellsville and joined the U.S. Army. While on a humanitarian mission in 1980, Mays' life was changed. He was on guard duty when lightning struck him, causing severe nerve damage. He was honorably discharged from the army the following year. In 1993, Mays was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, and he was confined to a wheelchair in 1995. He was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis in 1998. However, Mays, with the help of other paralyzed veterans, said he began to realize that being in a wheelchair was not a reason to stop enjoying the things he loved. "A group of paralyzed veterans got me back into the outdoors and showed me that being in a wheelchair wasn't something that was going to stop me," Mays said. In 2003, Mays and his wife Mary moved to North Carolina, where he began to advocate for disabled sportsmen. In 2005, Mays founded and became president of the North Carolina Handicapped Sportsmen. And in 2008, Mays helped develop a plan that would better allow the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to address the needs of disabled sportsmen. He helped raise more than $140,000 for the purchase of adaptive hunting equipment for disabled sportsmen in North Carolina. Mays has also helped develop opportunities for disabled hunters. When Mays first began working with disabled sportsmen, North Carolina had just six hunts set up for handicapped hunters. Now, there are more than 100. "I went from being a beneficiary to being an advocate," Mays said. Mays also spends countless hours working with children with life-threatening illnesses, as well as combat veterans who return from battle with mental or physical scars. His goal is to help all of them enjoy the outdoors, despite their limitations. "It is absolutely phenomenal to be able to work with them," Mays said. "It's amazing to see these young men and women come back (from war), and they are so withdrawn. They go on these hunts, and the stress just rolls off their shoulders." Mays is also trying to work toward the development of more specialized hunting equipment for people who enjoy the outdoors now but may find things harder as they get older. "The biggest thing is the awareness for a need for equipment in the future," Mays said, noting that someone who's 45-50 years old may have limitations when they're 65-70. For all of his work, Mays was honored by Safari Club International at its annual convention earlier this year in Reno, Nev. "I'm shocked," Mays said. "As a disabled sportsman, I don't think there is a more distinguished award that you can receive." Mays will have the opportunity to harvest eight animals during the safari. "It's just amazing," Mays said. "It's the trip of a lifetime."

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