Every fall in Wyoming and across the nation, bright orange hats and vests dot the woods, and the lights from headlamps and trucks can be seen in the early hours of the morning. Hunting season:a time where men and women suffer through cold darkness in silence in order to provide food for their families and preserve the traditions of mountain heritage.
For many, this kind of relationship with the natural world —hunting, fishing, or camping — seems out of reach. For some, it’s the lack of a mentor. Others might not have access to parcels of legally-huntable land. For others still, the physical demands of such an adventure may seem too great to overcome.
Through their outdoor education programs, The Outdoor Dream Foundation and Polestar Outdoors strive to prove that anything is possible. The Outdoor Dream Foundation has been helping youth who have been diagnosed with terminal or life-threatening illnesses make their outdoor adventures come true. So far, over one-thousand youths have been impacted through Outdoor Dream.
Polestar Outdoors, based out of Powell, Wyoming, uses hunting and fishing as venues to bring together adult mentors and young people from all walks of life. Their programming focuses on tradition, conservation, and leadership through backcountry experiences.
Through resourceful and dynamic approaches to facilitating hunting and other outdoor activities, these organizations help hunters achieve their dreams and goals in the field — even in the face of some staggering odds.
Take, for example, Kenneth “Chip” Madren, a twenty-five year-old from Georgia, and Elk Team Six: made up of his closest friends, and his mentor Ron Vining from Polestar Outdoors. Chip has been undertaking expeditions with Polestar Outdoors for several years, and most recently, he traveled to Wyoming to fill his first elk tag.
“We got it done. It was just awesome. I’ve been so blessed; the outdoor community really came to my side more than I could expect… and it’s just been great.”
Chip is the epitome of grit, determination, and a “never give up” mentality. After being diagnosed with brain cancer at age 13, he spent the next 12 years fighting to get back his body, mind, and life.
“I was in the hospital for about a year fighting the cancer. After that, after I beat the cancer and got out, I was horizontal in bed: couldn’t talk, couldn’t breathe out of my mouth, couldn’t move anything for 10 months. It did take five years of therapy to get back from that.”
His determination not only won his survival, but sparked his drive further to thrive and push boundaries beyond what many would consider possible. After 11 brain surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, Polestar Outdoors and Outdoor Dreams helped to provide the knockout punch.
“I will say what Polestar does was maybe the biggest medicine other than chemo for me to get through this,” says Chip. “Outdoor Dreams and Polestar Outdoors gave me something to look forward to, and kept my mind off of the bad stuff. I believe that was one of the biggest medicines.”
It takes a whole team to make dreams like this come true, and the impact is life-altering. “These programs not only teach outdoor skills and leadership, but they introduce our youth to the rich heritages of the places they hunt. And these connections to places and peoples provide the groundwork for learning to navigate the most challenging parts of our lives,” says Molly Hughes of the Hughes Charitable Foundation.
For Chip, these opportunities to travel, explore, and try something new are what life is really about:
“You can’t really live going to therapies all day and not do anything else… there’s a difference between being alive and living. And that’s kind of been my motto.”
A special thanks to Gary Baughman of Polestar Outdoors for sharing his videos and photos from this experience.