Hiding behind her Uncle I could see the little girl with long golden hair. “Who hasn’t had a turn?” Her little legs and bright pink Croc shoes began to fidget as I approached her. Her Uncle gently nudged her in my direction. Unlike the other kids in my group, this little girl needed some coaxing to draw her out of her shell.
The Kicking Bear event had just begun and thanks to her Uncle we coaxed the little girl up to the line and I placed the long recurve bow in her tiny hands. I tried to show her how to hold the bow but it confused her. I knew I had just a few moments to capture her attention. “Do you know your ABC’s?” I asked. “Yes”, she huffed as she rolled her eyes, as if saying, “how dare you ask me that question, I am 5 years old you know.” I asked her to make a giant letter T with her body. Beaming with pride over the fact she knew her ABC’s and with her arms stretched wide, her pint-size frame made a perfect letter T. Thanks to the alphabet I had opened a line of communication she understood.
My instincts told me there was more to this little girl than meets the eye. On the first target the arrow barely left the bow but with each target along the 3D course her confidence and eagerness greatly improved. The entire team cheered for her each time she launched an arrow. Soon her letter T formation was perfect and she gripped the bow with a newfound confidence.
The high-fives were amazing as she conquered the course, but the giant bear hug I got at the end was simply priceless! Her Uncle shook my hand and with tears in his eyes offered me a heartfelt thank you for helping his niece. “Her mother and she were in a horrific accident two years ago. Their car was hit by a semi-truck. Her mother died at the scene, she was badly injured. She is tiny for her age and she is afraid of meeting new people. I thought if I brought her to a Kicking Bear event it might be something different for her to do. I didn’t know she would have so much fun,” he shared as we watched her run and laugh with the other kids. My heart was full and my instincts correct, there was something special about this little girl.
The goal of Kicking Bear Foundation (KBF) is to enrich the lives of young people through outdoor experiences. The program targets underprivileged and disadvantaged youth but all young people are welcomed to attend a KBF event totally free of charge.
Created by Ray and Karen Howell, Kicking Bear is changing the lives of kids across the country, one arrow at a time. As a professional archer his accomplishments are legendary, plus he has garnered numerous titles in bodybuilding competitions. But perhaps Howell’s greatest accomplishment and certainly his legacy is he developed one of the country’s most triumphant outdoor mentoring programs for kids.
Howell is not just another individual whose heart strings have occasionally been tugged. He has walked the path that many of the attendees may currently be walking. Howell himself is the product of a broken home and dysfunctional upbringing. Howell will be the first to tell the kids with hard work and God, anything is possible. It only takes a few minutes to realize his heart is as big as his champion power lifting biceps. It is not just the kids who have taken notice. In 2007 Outdoor Life honored him as one of the top 25 people that changed the face of hunting and outdoor recreation.
The foundation of Kicking Bear is to offer hope and create in the hearts of today’s youth the recipe on how to achieve their goals. The hope is the young people who participate will also gain a greater appreciation and love for the outdoors that will last a lifetime.
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” (author unknown) For Howell and the countless folks that have joined him as a mentor or sponsor they realize that there is more to life than animals mounts on the wall, it is what you do for others that truly counts.
To learn more about Kicking Bear and how you can get involved visit their Web site at www.kickingbear.org.
Photos: Lisa Metheny