PROSPERITY — Turkeys gobbled and an experienced hunter lured birds in for the kill, but this hunt was no ordinary day.
With a little help from his friends, 14-year-old Cody Day bagged two turkeys on a recent hunt in Prosperity.
Day teamed up with the Freedom and Hope Foundation and paired with volunteer Ken Lindler, who called the birds.
Cody kept his grandfather’s 12-gauge heirloom shotgun at the ready from daylight until the hunt ended, so he never had a chance to try the slate and squeak call or the box call that Lindler used. But he said he had a wonderful time.
“With the help of Ken (who called the birds), I had a wonderful experience,” Day said. “It was an amazing thing. I just got my first turkey a few weeks before that. I really appreciate (Terry Cotney and the volunteers) who had the hunt for us.”
Executive Director Brad Jones with the Outdoor Dream Foundation connected Day with the Freedom and Hope Foundation Hunt.
The hunt gave him and his family some normalcy that connects Day to his past.
A few days later he and his family were at St. Jude’s Hospital so he could get check-ups on a non-cancerous brain tumor he developed at age 8.
Cody Day was an avid hunter prior to developing a brain tumor, though he admits he has few memories of the hunts he took before he had brain surgery in 2008. His father, Raymond, said doctors call the brain stem area that was affected by the tumor “God’s Country” because so little is known about it.
Surgeons at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital removed 70 percent of the tumor but they could not remove it all because of its location.
Day survived the risky surgery but had a long road ahead as he learned to walk again, to talk again, re-learned letters and numbers and more. He adjusted to vision changes since surgery affected his optic nerve, causing tunnel vision.
Pupil surgery in 2008 helped his vision but he has daily obstacles to overcome. His left side is weaker due to neurological problems and his left foot turns inward like a baby’s foot would. The altered gait limits his stamina on hunts.
If he starts to stumble a bit then his father or mother know he needs to rest and/or bring his hike or hunt to a close.
Niche, belonging … calling?
But for the turkey hunt Saturday, once Day was positioned in a blind any limitations were accounted for and life focused around hunting. Period.
For an afternoon, learning to walk again, learning his ABCs again and learning his numbers again were distant memories.
He enjoyed camaraderie with four other mobility impaired or chronically ill youth including Dylan Greenway, a CP patient from Greenwood, Deana Meade and Kyle Page, and Chase Hamm, a volunteer from Prosperity who has been treated for cancer at St. Jude’s and now comes back to help with hunts.
For Cody Day, the hunt was about community and belonging.
Though things have improved for Cody now, being different as a pre-teen and teenage, posed social challenges.
He was home schooled for a year because bullying became such a problem, but with the support of his parents he returned this year to public school and he is looking forward to high school next year.
“With school, for me now, every day is a new day and I look forward to it,” he said. “I am learning to look forward to challenges and face them to get through life.”
Cody is passionate about sports, particularly football,, though his health condition prohibits any contact sports. He loves the Philadelphia Eagles and the Clemson Tigers.
His parents are thankful for the confidence that comes to Cody through outdoor activities.
That outdoorsman passion is a gift that he draws strength from and applies to his school work, as well, he said.
He enjoys math and is an A-B student in that subject. Cody also likes science, particularly learning about plants and animals.
History is a different sort of animal and he likes it, though he admits remembering dates and battles when studying wars is a challenge.
He loves camping, hiking, hunting and fishing and said he wished his peers could experience those activities instead of spending the majority of time interacting with the world through their thumbs with video games.
Cody said he wants to work as a game warden or a park ranger in the future. In the meantime, as he takes strides forward in life, he said he is thankful for people like the volunteers with the Freedom and Hope Foundation who help make dreams come true.