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Wheelin#039; Sportsman event snags lots of fish, good times

Roger Scott has a lake practically in his backyard, but he doesn't fish it. The Flatwoods, Ky,. man has physical disabilities and uses a wheelchair. Access to the lake near Scott's home is almost impossible for him.

Friday's second-annual Wheelin' Sportsman Fishing Day at Lake Vesuvius is tailor-made for someone such as Scott, who traveled to the event with his neighbor, Stevie Vanover.

The event, a collaborative project between the National Wild Turkey Federation and the U.S. Forest Service, allows disabled people to cast their lines with the aid of a full compliment of volunteers ready to tend to any of their special needs.

Scott said he was impressed with the handicap-accessible boardwalk recently constructed around the Vesuvius boat ramp, and the throng of volunteers by his side.

"I love to fish, but I don't get out too often," Scott said. "They really take care of you. I can't walk too far and they built this big ramp here and it's really nice. This is great, I'll be back here."

Waiting on the sun

It was the first time at the event for Louise Huber, a part-time worker with Bryant Health Center, who said that the elderly with whom she works get a kick out of Wheelin' Sportsman Day, but they would be enjoying it even more if the thermometer would cooperate.

"I think it'll be very neat, if the sun comes out and warms things up," Huber said. "They all really enjoy it; they think this is great."

Polly White is a 25-year-old volunteer with the U.S. Forest Service, and she traveled from Athens Friday so she could take part in the day's activities. It was her first time to Lake Vesuvius.

Though the event is set up especially so people with disabilities get a chance to cast their lines into Vesuvius, she believed the event was just as important to the volunteers and friends and family who spend the day with the Wheelin' Sportsmen - and women.

"I think it's important because it's nice to be involved with anything," White said. "A lot of times those opportunities aren't available, it's nice to be outside, too. Plus, it's nice just being with a bunch of people."

Let the fish fly

Around 11 a.m. a parade of dignitaries attempted to catch the attention of the crowd from a podium near the boat ramp. It was all for naught however, as all eyes were inexorably drawn the small truck winding its way towards the ramp to dispense the day's most honored guests: over a thousand trout.

Just as the truck inched into the perfect position, Mother Nature seemed to bend to the will of Louise Huber, as the sun pierced the clouds and sprinkled gold across the ripples of Lake Vesuvius.

As country singer and Wheelin' Sportsman spokesman Howie Damron's upbeat rendition of the National Anthem still echoed across the lake, the fishing began. Rainbow trout cascaded from the thick, white tube connected to the fish-bearing truck, much to the delight of onlookers.

All smiles

Wayne National Forest Ironton District Ranger Gloria Chrismer said it's this joy and excitement from all the participants that makes all the work she does completely worthwhile.

"There are some of these people here in wheelchairs who have never been fishing," Chrismer said. "It lets them get out and commune with nature, and enjoy the sunshine. They'll come for the next few months too, we'll have folks come out from the nursing homes and they're just all smiles."

As Chrismer spoke with some of the gathered rangers about the day's events, Roger Scott and his neighbor Stevie still hadn't had a bite, which seemed to be the rule rather than the exception early in the day.

But as they attempted to untangle their conjoined fishing lines between fits of hysterical laughter, it was clear that neither one minded a bit.