Mossy Oak Pro Staffer Ashlee Lundvall of Cody, Wyoming, was recently named a recipient of Safari Club International Foundation’s Pathfinder Award. SCI Foundation Pathfinders are people who face challenges in life that causes them to find new ways to live, and to overcome the unique challenges of pursuing outdoor activities. These deserving individuals also give of their time to help their community and promote hunting for other disabled persons. In this exclusive OutdoorHub interview, Ashlee shares her inspiring story.
DM: It’s obvious from looking at your Facebook page that family means everything to you, so let’s start there: Please tell us a little about the Lundvall clan.
Ashlee: Before my accident in 1999, I believed many of the stereotypes commonly assumed about people with disabilities – specifically that they don’t get married and they don’t have children. I carried these assumptions with me into life after paralysis, and it affected my self-esteem for a long time. Thankfully, I met a young man in 2005 who showed me that I didn’t need to settle, or to look for my own worth in other people. Russ had grown up with his dad battling MS, so to him, people living with a disability were just as normal as those who are able-bodied. He was the first guy I met who loved me because of my wheelchair, and not in spite of it. I met the man of my dreams, and he just so happened to live in the place of my dreams – Wyoming. We were married in 2006, and we’ve spent the last 10 years thankful for all of the adventures that we are able to enjoy together.
One of those adventures came in the form of our daughter. Addison was born in 2010, and she has been such a blessing in our lives. She loves the outdoors, and we’ve been blessed to get to travel together as a family. We’re proud of our outdoor heritage, and we enjoy passing that on to the next generation.
DM: Take us back to the day of your accident. What happened?
Ashlee: Growing up outside of Indianapolis, I always felt a little restless. I loved the outdoors, and I was a four-sport athlete. I had a wonderful family and great friends, and yet I still felt like something was missing in my life.
On a family vacation to Wyoming in the mid-1990s, I finally found what I had been looking for. The mountains, the animals, the amazing outdoor adventures – I knew I was home. When I had the opportunity to return in 1999 to attend a camp, I was thrilled. The camp was held on a working ranch, and we mixed chores with fun.
On Monday, August 2, 1999, I woke up early to feed some of the animals before we were to leave that afternoon for a backpack trip in the mountains. I climbed up on a hayrack and began forking feed to the steers below. As I cut open a hay bale, one section fell to the side. As I reached for it, I lost my balance and began to fall. I hit my head and blacked out. When I came to, I tried to get up and realized that I couldn’t. That’s when I saw the pitchfork; I had landed on the wooden handle.
My parents back in Indiana were called and caught the first flight they could to Montana, where I was being taken by helicopter. I’ll never forget the surgeons coming in to my hospital room and telling me that I had fractured my spine and damaged my spinal cord. I would never walk again. For a 16-year-old, that’s a lot to take in. I had my whole life ahead of me – dreams and plans. None of them involved a wheelchair. I had to find a way to redefine my life, especially when it came to the outdoors.
DM: It’s clear that your disability doesn’t define you. Where did you find the strength to get back to living a life of filled with outdoor adventures?
Ashlee: My faith has always been an important part of my life, but until my accident, it had never been validated. For the first time, I was forced to evaluate my belief in God and what that meant to my present situation. It didn’t happen overnight, but I realized that my accident hadn’t taken God by surprise. In a mess that seemed like everything was out of control, it was reassuring to know that Someone was in control. I knew God had a plan for my life – I just had to be patient and open to what that was.
My family was also incredibly supportive and helped me realize that I could still lead a very active life. No dream was off-limits with their encouragement, and it was that love and backing that gave me the courage to rediscover my love for the outdoors. Being outside is something that we enjoy together, and we make it work for all of us, no matter what. That kind of support means everything.
DM: You’re an inspirational speaker, as well as an author, correct?
Ashlee: That’s correct! When my accident happened, I didn’t really have anyone in my situation to talk to about it. I promised myself that if I was ever given the opportunity, I would become a resource to others so that no one would ever feel alone as I once had felt. I started writing for myself at first, as a type of therapy, and then I decided to put it together and use it as a way to answer questions for others. I hoped that through sharing my story, struggles, and successes, I could help others. I put out my autobiography in February of 2016, “A Redefined Life: Lessons From A Pitchfork.”
In 2013, I was given the opportunity to represent Wyoming in the Ms. Wheelchair USA competition. My platform was accessible outdoor recreation, and I had a wonderful time talking about my love of hunting, fishing, and other adventures. I ended up winning the pageant, and I spent the next year on my “Crown & Camo” tour as Ms. Wheelchair USA. I traveled around the country speaking in schools, churches, and businesses, and it reminded me how much I enjoyed meeting new people and sharing my story. I started speaking full time, and in May of 2016, my husband was able to leave his full-time job as an accountant to help me with my speaking business. We homeschool Addison, which makes it easier and more efficient for us to travel together as a family.
DM: Do you consult businesses on adaptive recreation equipment? Tell us about the Action Trackchair.
Ashlee: Absolutely, that’s actually one of the best parts about my job. There are nearly 60 million people living with a disability in the U.S. today, and that is a huge market with millions of dollars in discretionary income. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into adequate representation in marketing and product development. I’m a bit of a gear head, so I am always on the lookout for either adaptive gear, or gear that would make things easier for people living with a disability that isn’t being marketed appropriately. I enjoy consulting with companies to bridge the gap between the outdoor industry and the disability community.
Speaking of gear, the one thing I can’t live without is my Action Trackchair, my Baby! This tank gets me just about anywhere I need to go, and it saves my awesome hubby from having to carry me around everywhere. My model is a Trackstander, which allows me to stand and move around. I can hang blinds and other gear on the back and drag wild game out after a harvest. I tease Russ that I put the handy in handicapped. J He really likes going hunting with me now, ‘cause I carry everything.
DM: I have a feeling that you and I know many of the same people at Mossy Oak. It’s a great company filled – from the top down – with diehard hunters who care about family and pursuing outdoor passions with conservation in mind. How did you become a member of the Mossy Oak National Pro Staff?
Ashlee: I can’t say enough good things about Mossy Oak. Not only do they make a variety of superior camo patterns, they are a company filled with amazing people. Warm, welcoming, down-to-earth folks who truly believe in faith, family, and the great outdoors.
Last year, I reached out to a few companies that I respected in the outdoor industry about partnering to better represent people living with disabilities. I heard back from Mossy Oak right away. We spent the next several months talking about ways to break down barriers and provide more opportunities for everyone through hunting. When I was asked to join their National Pro Staff, it was one of the greatest honors of my life. To promote MO is a dream come true, and they’ve all been so gracious. I just got back from hunting whitetails in Oklahoma for “Hunting the Country,” and my family was able to go and be involved. To be given these opportunities, and to be supported by such great people as I try and help others enjoy the outdoors, it just doesn’t get any better than that!
DM: You will receive the Pathfinder award during the 2017 SCI Convention February 1-4 in Las Vegas. In addition to a trophy, you’ll be presented with an all-expense paid African safari along with other gifts. I assume you must be smiling ear to ear 24/7?
Ashlee: I’m still in shock over this one. And yes, I’ve been wearing a perma-grin since I received the phone call! I have so much respect for SCI and all they do to support conservation around the world. So to be recognized by them – it’s an amazing and humbling feeling. Best of all, I get to take Russ to Africa with me. We didn’t get a chance to go anywhere this year for our 10-year anniversary, so this is going to be the best late anniversary trip ever!
DM: Final question – If you could take part in only one more outdoor adventure, where would you go, what would you do, and who would join you?
Ashlee: Wow, tough question! I have a pretty long bucket list, but since I get to cross Africa off soon, I would have to say that I would love to take Russ and Addison and head to the Yukon. Camping, fishing, hunting moose and caribou – that would be an amazing adventure. There is something transcendent about untouched places, and the Yukon is such a place. That would be a great ending to an amazingly blessed ride.
Editor’s note: Check out the original “Women Who“ series on CarbonTV that explores a woman’s take on typically male-dominated pursuits. Whether it’s shooting, hunting or farming, these women make no apology for who they are and aim to inspire the same passion in others.