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Sportsmen's Spotlight: Jamie Self

By: Chasiti Kirkland

The fireworks fizzled long before the first one ever sounded off that Fourth of July in 1982.

A festive day of food and fellowship on the river came to a tragic end when family members rushed Billie Jean Self to Singing River Hospital in Pascagoula, Miss., to stop her hemorrhaging. The only option was to deliver her youngest daughter by Cesarean section two months early. The next 28 days would be touch and go for the newborn, who fought for every breath after doctors removed Jamie Self from a respirator. At birth, she weighed less than a bag of sugar--3 pounds, 13 ounces--and her father, Jimmy, could cradle her in the palm of his hand.

Life itself is one giant miracle, but the Lord must have sprinkled a little extra grace on Jamie that day because she survived a collapsed lung, a brain hemorrhage and a deadly infection common for preemies within the first month of infancy. Now at 19, she shares the story of her life from a wheelchair, Jamie's way of walking until she rolls into heaven.

She has cerebral palsy that affects only her lower body. But the permanency of it all doesn't bother Jamie, who says, "I'm in this chair because the Lord wants me to be. These wheels are my legs, and they get me around just fine" — a fact no one can argue.

Her wheels get her to the deer and turkey woods and to her favorite fishing hole. Last February, they carried her the farthest yet when she spent 10 days in the South African outback with her father.

Jamie is a huntress, and a darn good one. But until four years ago, she could count on one hand the times she'd picked up a gun, much less pulled the trigger. Today, the times are too many to count and what's in her sights often winds up on her parents' kitchen table or on their living room walls. The impala, zebra, blesbok and hartebeest she bagged on safari eventually will, too.

But the story of the huntress could not be told without mentioning the program that got her interested in taking that first shot — Wheelin' Sportsmen. Most of the more than 500,000 disabled hunters in this country were life-long sportsmen until accidents, illness or aging robbed them of their ability to pursue their passion for the outdoors. But now they are returning, thanks to technology and the big hearts of fellow hunters.

One of those men is Kirk Thomas, founder and national coordinator of Wheelin' Sportsmen NWTF. He's also the person who approached Jamie's dad about getting her involved. Since then she's been a regular at Does for Does and Ultimate Team-Up, national Wheelin' events held in Alabama. And she rarely goes home empty-handed, sometimes with a deer, but always with memories.

She also has appeared on Wheelin' Sportsmen videos. And even signed up a few of her closest friends. "Everyone treats you like family, regardless of whether you've known them five minutes or five months."

Jamie's mother, Billie Jean, says the outdoors has always been in her daughter's blood. "She gets it from her father."

Jamie would often go rabbit hunting or fishing with him, Mrs. Self said. Even if she didn't reel in a lunker, it was worth just being there to feel the breeze in her hair or watch the butterflies yank and bank like warbirds in an air raid.

But it was through Wheelin' Sportsmen that Jamie became an accomplished huntress and an inspiration to the able-bodied people who join her in the woods.

"She's my buddy," said Pam Morgan, a regional coordinator for the Wheelin' Sportsmen program. Morgan also was with Jamie in 1999 when she bagged her first deer.

"Until I met Jamie, I was guilty of seeing a disabled person and thinking to myself how sorry I felt for them, then forgetting about it," Morgan said. "But Jamie has taught me that disabled people are no different than anybody else. All they want is a chance. And that's what Wheelin' Sportsmen gives them."

To Morgan, especially, Jamie is not a young woman in a wheelchair. She is the friend who graduated last May from East Central High School, 35th in a class of 263. The friend who was voted Most Beautiful in her school pageant. The friend who gave her first deer to the hungry. And the young woman who gave Morgan a better outlook on life.

"I'm glad there are people like Kirk Thomas around and organizations like the NWTF. Both are a godsend," Jamie said. "Being disabled doesn't mean you are incapable. It just means you are a little more inconvenienced at times."

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