An opportunity for all

Perspective by Ashlee Lundvall

One August morning in 1999, I swung my legs out of my bunk and pulled on a stiff, new pair of Wrangler jeans. I was at a teen camp in Wyoming, and I had chores to complete before we left that afternoon on a backpacking trip. Little did I know that day would be the last day I stood on my own.

Growing up in Indiana, I was a year-round, four-sport athlete, starting the school year with volleyball and moving through basketball, fast-pitch softball, and slow-pitch softball. After hitting six feet in the 6th grade, basketball had become a special passion of mine. I loved the teamwork, the physicality, the competition, and I found a sense of deep satisfaction every time I stepped on the court. Sports were my identity, and the future I imagined for myself. 

In a split second, that was all taken away. Following a freak accident at that camp in Wyoming, I found myself sitting in a wheelchair, listening to doctors tell me I would be seeing the world from a much shorter vantage. My dreams of a career involving sports were demolished as I struggled to accept a new identity in a paralyzed body.

This was a challenging time for me, but it was also a time of growth and discovery. I realized that sometimes it takes more courage to let go of old dreams that you don’t even recognize anymore in order to move on to new opportunities. I knew I wanted to help others, and I understood my journey had purpose, but I didn’t know where that would lead me. 

During graduate school, I met a young man from Wyoming. We shared a love for the outdoors and we both wanted to start our new life together out West. When we returned to Wyoming, I found that the rugged beauty of the land hadn’t changed, but I had.  I was presented with a choice; I could hide away in self-pity, or I could venture out in the wild and find a new purpose. As intimidating as those mountains seemed, a spark within me craved the challenge. I was eager to discover a new field, a new competition, a new team. And I found it outdoors.

These days, you can find me hunting, flyfishing, camping, and four-wheeling miles of mountain trails. The vast Wyoming landscape has become my arena, the place I seek out that deep satisfaction from my youth. I have found healing in the outdoors, and along the way I have forged lasting friendships and rediscovered a passion for sharing it forward. 

Now my drive is to protect this opportunity for future generations while ensuring that it is accessible to all, regardless of their ability level. Everyone deserves the chance to uncover the adventure and rich fulfillment that I have found outside. 

I believe, in the words of the Sisterhood of the Outdoors, that “we have to give it away to keep it.” We must conserve these wild places, and that will only happen if we are willing to share our knowledge and experience and passion. If we don’t show the next generation the path, we risk losing this way of life. But if we give freely and joyfully, we can see it grow and flourish. 

So share your story. Take a kid fishing. Look for philanthropic opportunities in conservation. It doesn’t take much to make a difference, but you have to be looking for the hole that only you can fill. And you have to be willing to fill it.

Some may see my disability and believe my life is thin and bleak. I hope they pause long enough to glimpse the richness and pure joy I have unearthed. And I pray they can find that same life-altering experience.

Ashlee Lundvall is a wife and mom who lives on a farm in Powell, Wyoming. She is the Head of School at Veritas Academy. Ashlee serves on the Wyoming Game & Fish Commission as well as the Wyoming Hunger Initiative.


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