For Mississippi native Kirk Thomas, one date is etched in his mind forever -<st1:date w:st="on" month="11" day="27" year="1992">November 27, 1992. After a morning deer hunt, as he was heading back to his truck, a falling tree struck him and sent the 6-foot 5 inch, 321 pound former college football player hurling through the air. When Thomas landed he was laying face up on the ground with a crushed back and a multitude of internal injuries. After an operation, hospital stay and rehabilitation, at the age of 33, Thomas was facing life as a T-12 paraplegic requiring the use of a wheelchair the rest of his life. Thomas didn’t stay down long. He worked his tail off rehabbing and working extra every day to get his strength back. He had to learn how to do everything without the use of his massive legs. “I had a family to take care of and to do this it meant I had to get my butt back to work selling heavy equipment. I never felt sorry for myself, I didn’t have time too. Besides there was no way I was going to let my disability rob me of life. Quite frankly, I never quit working. After I was moved to re-hab after my surgeries and hospital stay, I would call customers at night from my hospital bed in an effort to keep income coming in. After 58 days I left the hospital totally focused on being all I could be. I learned how to climb in my truck so I could start driving and get back to work. The way I saw it was simple, I was still alive, I still had the same responsibilities, I had a life to live and it was up to me to accept the responsibility to make the most of it. Since my accident I’ve had a total of 26 surgeries, was kept alive on a ventilator for 9 days, fought off and beat a blood bacteria infection that was suppose to be fatal and I have was close to death 2 more times. I chose to see and meet everyone of these challenges as an opportunity and most importantly as a blessing”, said Thomas In 1996, a renewed approach to life, combined with his love of the outdoors, led Thomas to create Wheelin’ Sportsmen of America, an organization that hosted disabled people at fishing and hunting events by pairing able-bodied volunteers to assist them. The efforts of Wheelin’ Sportsmen and Thomas began to be recognized nationwide. It wasn’t long before he began speaking all across the country in an effort to promote Wheelin’ Sportsmen and recreational opportunities for disabled people. His actions caught the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF’) attention and in late 2000, Wheelin’ Sportsmen became an official outreach program of the Federation. “The merger between Wheelin’ Sportsmen and the Federation was an awesome opportunity for both organizations” Thomas said. “I have always thought that God had a plan for us all but for me… he presented me with the opportunity, desire and passion to help people and give back to others. This became my desire and mission that I live it every day. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing people who never thought they could get outside and participate in an activity receive the opportunity to do so. When my accident happened, I was one of the blessed one’s; I had friends and family that made sure I got the opportunity to continue my love of the outdoors. After my accident I was asked to become a member of the AL Independent Living Council which I did. When I was around other disabled individuals it didn’t take long to find out the many barriers that disabled people faced when it came to doing anything mush less than participating in outdoor activities. I’ve always looked at what I do as a way to give back for all the support I received. I’ve dedicated my life to helping disabled people as a way to say thanks for the support I received. This is a part of me and it’s in my soul. As a matter of fact, I believe it’s why I sit in this chair everyday. It’s hard for some people to understand but, I have always seen my disability as a blessing and a gift from God. I wouldn’t change my disability or what I’ve gone through over the years for anything” said Thomas. While at the NWTF, Thomas led the programs efforts serving as its National Coordinator /Founder of the Wheelin’ Sportsmen program. Thomas grew Wheelin’ Sportsmen from a grassroots program to a national network of activity, bringing outdoor events to thousands of disabled people across the country. He quickly became known as a well-respected leader in the outdoor world, winning numerous awards and honors for his work on behalf of people with disabilities. Thomas has testified before Congress concerning outdoor assessable recreation for disabled individuals. He has chaired numerous hearings to open up new opportunities for disabled sportsmen. A powerful motivational speaker, Thomas is asked to speak all over the country sharing his story of determination, triumph and success. Thomas’s life changed again July 2 nd . 2008 when Thomas made the decision to tender his resignation as the Wheelin’ Sportsmen NWTF leader. Thomas said, “Making the decision to leave the Wheelin’ program was very hard. But the decision came clear and easy to me when my heart told me it was time. Wheelin’ sportsmen had been my life for a very long time. It was a vision and a dream, I witness its growth, and saw it help a lot of folks over the years. The Wheelin program will always be special to me but another new and powerful dream was leading me in a new and different direction.” Thomas began focusing his efforts toward his new dream “Outdoors Without Limits” (OWL)” in 2008. Thomas serve’s as its Executive Director/Founder. “I am extremely excited about the future of OWL. We’re making a tremendous difference in the lives of a lot of folks, disabled, non-disabled, volunteers and our partners. Developing OWL has put breath back in me. It take’s a tremendous amount of hard work, but somehow it gets done” said Thomas. The organizations design is unique but simple. It’s all about building community based chapters. “Chapters have the opportunity to focus their attention and efforts on providing disabled individuals opportunities within their own communities. We’re totally inclusive and we encourage everyone to get involved disabled or non-disabled. We take pride in allowing membership to be an elective. We don’t want the dollar to interfere with participation. While raising revenue is extremely important and needed you can’t allow it to negate participation especially when it comes to disabled participants who have never had the opportunity to try it. OWL has one simple and direct mission which is to provide opportunity. If we put the dollar in front of this opportunity we not only fail our mission but we fail the people we’re trying to serve. It doesn’t matter what kind of disability a person has or doesn’t have and age doesn’t play a factor. We have an assortment of programs and events our chapters can host according to their needs, abilities or logistics. We also host National Ultimate Adventure events. Most of these are co-hosted by a community chapter. Our Ultimate Adventure program is experiencing some outstanding growth. Simply put, we’re not all about hunting and fishing; we’re about getting folks outside so we can get the sun on their backs. There is an abundance of way’s to accomplish this. The only way I know how to run OWL is like a big ole happy and giving family. If someone comes to an OWL event and leaves without feeling like a family member or a part of the team, then we failed them and the OWL organization. Simply put, I see OWL as a life changing and saving organization for everyone who becomes involved. We take pride in proving this, said Thomas. Thomas surrounds himself with a lot of great volunteers, a lot of which have worked with him since his early days with Wheelin’ Sportsmen. Some of these individuals have years of experience coordinating events and acting as advocates for people with disabilities. “OWL is a volunteer dependant organization and there’s no questioning the fact that our volunteer’s have always and will continue to play a key role in our successes. There would not be an OWL organization without them. I couldn’t be any prouder to have the help we receive. I know a lot of these people, and I know where their hearts are. They get the job done. As a matter of fact, when it comes right down to it, I receive a lot of the credit but these are the individuals that should receive it, not me. Volunteers are my hero’s and there the rubber that hit’s the road. OWL is successful because of their efforts. OWL volunteers are life changers and savers”, said Thomas. OWL is guided by an eleven person National Board of Directors, and a five member Executive Advisory Board for specific needs. “These are respected individuals from either the conservation or business world; they take an active leadership role in the organization. I am more than pleased with our National Board and Advisory Board members. There willingness to step up to lead and lend a hand to help is priceless,” said Thomas. OWL also has an Advisory Council that consists of disabled and non-disabled members. “These individuals play a key role in our direction and success. They are either volunteer leaders or participates that are heavily involved with OWL. We need and appreciate receiving their feedback and help. I have always said, to improve you have know what you need to improve on. The Council members do a super job in helping to improve and develop OWL. All in all, as an organization, we have come a long way but we still have a long way to go. We’re going to stay the course, continue our mission and do everything we can do to change as many lives as we can”, said Thomas. Kirk Thomas can be reached at 706.788.9878 or by cell at803.480.0167. His email address is email@example.com . For additional information on the Outdoors Without Limits program visit their website at www.OutdoorsWithoutLimits.net. _____________________________________________________________________________ About Outdoors Without Limits (OWL): OWL is a 501c (3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting education and opportunity for people with disabilities. Its goal is to educate those with disabilities about the possibilities of outdoor recreational activities while providing them the necessary education, opportunity and assistance to participate. OWL was designed to increase awareness, resources and opportunities that directly impact people and the communities where they live. The program strives to challenge stereotypes about disabilities and promote awareness of “ability” in a positive outdoor environment. To get involved, participate or change the stereotype of what defines “ability” in your community go to www.outdoorswithoutlimits.net for more information.