By Larry Woody
An accident in 1990 left Shane Hall broken in body, but not in spirit
Hall, a native of the West Tennessee community of Millsfield, had been hunting and fishing since he was five. That robust outdoors life he cherished changed dramatically when a fall from a bridge left him partially paralyzed.
The incident slowed Hall but it didn’t stop him. He continued his outdoors pursuits from a wheelchair, enjoying what he called his “moment of freedom.” In the process he became committed to helping other physically disabled outdoorsmen do likewise
Hall was a driving force behind the ongoing construction of wheelchair-accessible fishing piers, duck blinds and wildlife-observation decks across the state. Hall died Oct. 7, 2016, at age 44, but his spirit lives on in the movement he inspired
“When Shane was in a wheelchair he was fortunate to have friends and family who helped him get around in the outdoors,” says wife Melissa, who assisted her husband with his work. “Not everybody was fortunate to have such help, and Shane wanted all disabled people to be able to share the outdoors he loved.”
“When my dad was in the outdoors he said he was free from all his problems and worries,” says son Britt, 22. “He wanted others to experience that same moment of freedom.
Melissa and Britt reside in Dyersburg where they participate in “Moment of Freedom” projects whenever possible.
“We both have full-time jobs and our time is limited,” Melissa says. “We help as much as we can, because we are as passionate about the cause as Shane was.”
Melissa met Shane in a bike shop and they were wed in 2009.
“He was such a good person” Melissa says. “He had a caring nature and was fun to be with.”
That same engaging, outgoing personality that won Melissa’s heart won support for the causes he championed.
“Shane was an inspirational person to be around,” says Don Hosse, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Education Outreach coordinator. “He made a lasting impact on a lot of people, including me.”
The genesis of Hall’s Moment of Freedom initiative was a TV show he saw about Wheelin’ Sportsmen of America, Inc. Hall contacted the organization, volunteered his services and it grew from there
Hall became involved with the National Wild Turkey Federation, coordinating hunts for disabled hunters in Tennessee. His work and his passion attracted widespread attention, including that of the TWRA, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation and the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Retired commissioner Harold Cannon was especially moved by the Moment of Freedom project. He contacted Hall and asked how the commission and the agency could help.
He recalls how it began:
“Several years ago my wife and I flew to Sacramento and when we landed, the pilot asked everyone to please remain seated to allow some soldiers to de-plane. They were escorting the bodies of soldiers who had been killed in battle. That was such a moving experience that I wanted to do something for these men and women who had sacrificed so much. When I got home I contacted Shane, whom I’d heard about, and told him I wanted to be a part of his efforts. I presented the idea to the rest of the commission – to assist Wounded Warriors and other disabled outdoorsmen – and everybody immediately got on board. It’s probably the most gratifying thing I’ve ever been involved with.”
One of the commission’s goals was to construct 21 wheelchair-accessible hunting blinds across the state. That goal has been met, with more planned, along with a growing number of special fishing piers and decks
The newest wheelchair fishing pier was dedicated earlier this year on Reelfoot Lake. It is one of six such piers on the lake, which also has three wheelchair-accessible duck blinds. Reelfoot Wildlife Management Area manager Jeff Martin says they have been well-received.
“We draw for 30 permits every season and they are all taken,” Martin says. “Every blind is fully used.”
One of the more unique wheelchair projects is underway on the Tellico River where a trout-fishing pier is scheduled for completion in August. As was often the case in such enterprises, Hall was the driving force behind it. Region III TWRA officer Mark Thurman explains:
“I took Shane on a trip to Tellico several years ago and he, being from West Tennessee, was captivated by the mountains and the tumbling Tellico River. We started talking about trout fishing and the next thing I knew, we were making plans to build a trout-fishing pier. Shane’s enthusiasm was contagious.”
The pier is being built near the TWRA hatchery on a stretch of the riverbank. It is within casting distance of a deep pool, complete with a waterfall. Wheelchair anglers can fly fish or use other types of tackle if they prefer.
“The pier is located in a beautiful setting, part of what makes trout fishing so special,” Thurman says. “It will include a paved parking lot, a ramp to the pier and all other wheelchair conveniences.”
The degree of assistance needed varies from person to person.
“Some wheelchair outdoorsmen are able to get around fairly well on their own, while others may require a little help,” says Thurman, who also assists with the Healing Waters project for disabled fishermen. “We want to meet everybody’s needs.
Hosse, who collaborated with Hall on several projects and continues to facilitate the Agency’s ongoing work with disabled-outdoorsmen facilities, says it’s a labor of love.
“We don’t do it because we have to, we do it because we want to and because it’s the right thing to do,” Hosse says. “I became acquainted with Shane through some of our outreach programs and the more I was around him the more impressed I was by his commitment and his passion. Shane carried the baton and we followed.”
Hosse, like many who participate in the wheelchair projects, says he has become emotionally involved.
“It’s not just a job, it’s something I’m personally committed to,” he says. “Being around disabled outdoorsmen and seeing their incredible courage and spirit has had an impact on me. It makes me realize what I’ve taken for granted, and how much I’ve got to be thankful for. This is a way to give back.”
Hall, in an interview shortly before his passing, put it this way:
“You see a lot of things that go on in peoples’ lives that humbles you to be a part of. It is amazing to provide these individuals with the opportunities to get back in the outdoors. I felt this is where I needed to be. It’s a huge joy.”
“It was a privilege to have known Shane and worked with him on projects that benefit so many disabled outdoorsmen,” Hosse says. “That work will continue into the future as we build more and more facilities for the disabled. Shane helped lay the foundation, and it’s a wonderful legacy.”
Larry Woody is a retired (Nashville) Tennessean outdoors editor. He writes a syndicated newspaper column and contributes to numerous magazines. He is a member of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame and Martin Methodist College Hall of Fame. He resides in Nashville.