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Alyssa Howerton of Frankston shows off her Corsican Ram she shot in March as part of a program through the United Special Sportsman Alliance.

A chance to hunt exotic game is something 18-year-old Alyssa Howerton will never pass up.

Even though she is confined to a wheel chair due to spina bifida, and hydrocephalus (excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain), that doesn’t stop her and she has the game mounts to prove it.

Back in March, Alyssa got the chance to go to Laguna Vista Ranch in South Texas. Running a fever, sick and confined to a wheel chair, Alyssa wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity. What she got was a Corsican Ram.

“I don’t want to stay home and hunt,” Alyssa said, even though her parents own an 800-acre ranch near Frankston. “I’m not a regular person, so I don’t want to do a regular hunt.”

Instead, she likes to opt for the exotic.

The hunts are part of a program through the United Special Sportsman Alliance (USSA), which allows critically ill and disabled youth to go on hunts they normally never get to experience.

The hunting trips are provided free to the families by USSA and Tyers Taxidermy Unlimited of Palestine mounted her ram — free of charge.

“It’s something I looked forward to doing and was happy to do,” Randy Tyer, owner of Tyer’s Taxidermy Unlimited said of the mounting work he did for Alyssa. “It was my first opportunity to get to do something like this.”

It was a fluke Alyssa got to go on the hunt, her mother Marlena Greene said.

“The little boy who was supposed to go got sick, so we got to go on short notice,” Greene said. “She had a fever and was sick, but there was no holding her back when she found out she was getting to go, so I kept putting Tylenol down her and we headed out there.”

Alyssa remembers the day being cold, and the rifle she was going to use with a laser sight wasn’t functioning that day, so the ranch owner let her use his AR-15 rifle which had the sight Alyssa needed.

“She had just had Lasik surgery on her eyes,” Greene noted, “so she had a little trouble seeing that day so she really needed that sight because she could see that red dot.”

The hunt itself wasn’t quite what Alyssa expected.

“I thought there was going to be all these animals in one place,” Alyssa admitted. “But they were in these small herds of six or seven, and you had to go find them.”

Find them she did, and she got her ram, in spite of any difficulties she has encountered along the way.

In her 18 years, Greene said Alyssa has had 15 or 16 surgeries. While it may seem unbearable, Greene said she pulls herself through it.

“She’s tough,” Greene said proudly of her daughter. “She never lets anything stop her.”

Alyssa is not about to slow down, either.

“Why should I,” she quips. “I’m not going to slow down, I’m ready to go get’em.”

The trip back in March to South Texas was not her first USSA hunt. She got to go on a bear hunt in Wisconsin, where she managed to bag a black bear. Alyssa also was able to bag a Sika deer at the famous Y O Ranch in West Texas.

Being able to provide those types of opportunities is why Brigid O’Donoghue, of Wisconsin, founded USSA.

In 1998 O’Donoghue started her own bio-tech research company studying ruminant wildlife such as deer and elk.

“I went all over the country visiting, game ranches and, with wildlife people and I became friends with these people,” O’Donoghue said.

All of that changed when a critically ill man from Texas got in touch with her and told her his last wish was to go on a big game hunt. She brought him up to Wisconsin for a hunt, and that’s when her life started changing.

“I was moved by how happy that hunt made him,” O’Donoghue said. “From that one man, we are now in the thousands we have helped.”

It is through her bio-research work and her getting to know the owners of the game ranches across the country that she was able to set up USSA.

“Two years into my company I decided to put it on the back burner (and focus on USSA),” O’Donoghue said. “People said I was crazy, but I have to put my heart first, and God put me in touch with all of these people — now we have done over 5,600 hunts in 34 states.”

She may have just done the world’s largest bear hunt in Wisconsin with 39 hunters, 27 of whom were able to get a bear.

She gives a lot of credit and thanks to the game ranches who allow these sick and injured children and adults to come onto their ranches and experience life outdoors away from the sterilized world of the hospitals.

“When children are really sick it seems as if their world is crumbling around them,” O’Donoghue said. “When they get outdoors there is a peace in their heart they can’t express.”

Seeing that in the people she helps is what pushes O’Donoghue to keep doing the work. She also knows how the people she is helping feel.

“I have been through a lot,” O’Donoghue said, who has endured a life-threatening illness which resulted in permanent disability from a seizure disorder and brain surgery when she was young. “I have had many illnesses and with God’s help I have conquered them all.

“I believe my disabilities help me to understand the people I am trying to help better and it opens my eyes to what they are feeling.”

O’Donoghue also is grateful to taxidermists, such as Tyer, all around the country who have donated their time and effort to do the mounts.

“They are giving their time and paying for all the parts to do these mounts,” O’Donoghue said.

All are giving and all are benefiting and it is the children like Alyssa who make the people involved give more.

“I got to meet Alyssa,” O’Donoghue recalled. “She was full of life. I like to look to children like her to give me answers on how to run the charity — they can give me better decisions than the adults.”

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O’Donoghue said there are plenty of hunts available for children and adults alike, those wanting to learn more can go to the USSA Web site at www.childwish.com, or call O’Donoghue at (800)518-8019.

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