Paralyzed teen hunter overcomes tragedy – Jackson Clarion Ledger

By any standard, Hunter Azlin of Leland is an All-American teen. At Washington School in Greenville, his name is synonymous with sports.

“He was a starting pitcher at Washington School,” said his father Ralph Azlin. “Baseball was really good for him.

“He started in football and he played tennis. He was big on athletics.”

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Hunter’s other passion is the outdoors. He enjoys fishing in the warmer months and since the age of 5 or 6, Hunter could be found in the woods during hunting seasons. So it is no surprise that Hunter and a friend were on the family farm, rifles in tow, on Feb. 14, 2016.

“We were sitting in a boat that was on land,” Hunter said. “We were scaring birds off the lake.”

But in an instant, his way of life changed.

“I felt it more than I heard it,” Hunter said. “A shock went through my body.

“That’s when I realized what had happened. I just knew I couldn’t move or feel my legs.”

His friend’s .22 rimfire rifle had accidentally discharged.

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“We really don’t know what happened, but the gun went off and when it went off it hit him in the spinal column,” Ralph said. “It was a freak accident, but it’s been life-changing for Hunter.”

Life-changing, yes. Life-ending, no.

Recovery

Hunter spent almost two months in hospitals for treatment of his severed spinal cord. When he returned to the Delta from a medical facility in Atlanta, he went straight to baseball practice rather than home. Despite being confined to a wheelchair, he remains on the team, attends practices and dresses out for games.

Not long after returning, Hunter was back on the water.

“As soon as I got back in the spring I managed to crappie fish,” Hunter said. “Being in a boat isn’t easy, but I still love being out there.”

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Those were signs of what was to come, and it was clear Hunter wasn’t finished doing the things he loved. Rather than dwell on what he can’t do, Hunter focuses on what he can do.

“Of course I’ve questioned why it happened plenty of times,” Hunter said. “You can’t really focus on why because that won’t get you anywhere in life. You’ve just got to face the challenges and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

And there is no shortage of challenges. Deer hunting from a normal wheelchair would have severely limited Hunter’s mobility. But his father found an all-terrain chair that moves on tracks rather than wheels. Tree stands are out of the equation, so Hunter and his father began building ground blinds out of limbs, brush and other natural materials.

Even getting to the blinds is a challenge. Ralph said for a morning hunt, the two wake up at 3 a.m. because dressing and other daily tasks take much longer than they once did. Then, Hunter has to move from a truck to a golf car and then into his chair. But once in a blind, life’s clock goes back in time.

Time to forget

“Once I start settling in and start seeing deer I forget about that stuff,” Hunter said. “I just play in the moment and I forget about the things that have happened.”

And the changes have not hindered his success. This season Hunter harvested two bucks and a doe in Mississippi and two bucks in Texas, one of which had a massive rack scoring 163 ⅝ inches.

“It was huge,” Hunter said. “It was definitely something I’ve never seen before.”

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And the rewards seem sweeter.

“It’s made me appreciate it more,” Hunter said. “I’ve always loved the challenge of it. In a way, it’s made it more complicated, but you just work harder for what you want.”

Just like hunting and fishing, Hunter hasn’t given up hope of walking again, either.

“I guess everything is possible,” Hunter said. “I see myself out of this wheelchair one day. There have been a lot of advances in technology and I keep up with it.”

Contact Brian Broom at 601-961-7225 or bbroom@gannett.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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