Elite pros show OFF for youths

Before they were Bassmaster Elite Series pros, they were lovers of the outdoors — passionate about fishing and hunting and eager to share the outdoor experience with others.

Recently, four Elite pros — Bill Lowen, Bradley Roy, Greg Vinson and 2013 rookie Kelley Jaye — spent time sharing their passion for the outdoors at a special needs youth function in Alabama sponsored by Outdoor Friends Forever, a non-profit organization. O.F.F. is the creation of former Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens angler Jim Hardy of Deatsville, Ala.

Hardy has been confined to a wheelchair since a 2001 tree stand accident, but he refused to allow his injuries to keep him out of the woods or off the water. In fact, he still fishes the Southern Opens as a boater. O.F.F. was started to show special needs kids they could enjoy the outdoors lifestyle, too.

"I wanted these kids to see that people in their situation were doing things like hunting and fishing," said Hardy.  "With the help of some of my friends, we started the foundation to help facilitate that."

Hardy's friends include William Davis of Davis Bait Company and Mel Palmer, an Alexander City, Ala., businessman. With the help and support of their families, O.F.F. conducts two deer hunts and several fishing outings each year, all at no charge to the children or their families. The Elite anglers donated their time and paid all of their own expenses to participate.

December's hunting event included nine special needs children, their families and volunteers. In all, there were more than 100 attendees. Activities began with safety training for the youths led by licensed instructors. Medical personnel trained the hunting guides as to the special needs of the children involved.

Greg Vinson works to put his young students on fish.

In addition to deer hunting, there was a bass fishing excursion on a private lake. Two of the young hunters bagged their first deer and several caught bass.

"These events are great for all of us," said Vinson.  "To see these children and their families experience so much joy is tremendously rewarding."

"I made some new young friends and shared my love of the outdoors with them," said Lowen. "Experiences like these are very emotional for me."

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