I was blessed as a child to be raised enjoying all the bounty that God had placed on Earth. Thus, from that first fishing trip at four years of age, my first whitetail deer at age six, shooting, fishing and hunting year round and becoming an Eagle Scout at age 17, I have always enjoyed the outdoors. While in college, I majored in Game and Fish management. But, as Dad, and every male in our extended family were former military, I dropped out of college and became 8th generation Army and went to Vietnam, my generation’s war. My heritage served me well, in the outdoors of Vietnam.
While serving in Vietnam, God presented me with a new direction in life. On May 29, 1969, I was transformed in an instant into a triple amputee; but, very alive and knowing that my past life experiences would again serve me. After 20 months in a VA Hospital and enduring 33 surgeries, I left the VA on my current journey through life. Fortunately, while in the VA and continuing through today, my family helped me figure out how to continue enjoying everything associated with the outdoors. I became a good steward of the resources God placed on our family’s hunting land, and all across Georgia and America.
Every hunter dreams of a hunting trip to Africa. I had the honor of meeting Dick Caillouet from the Georgia SCI Chapter in 2013. I got involved in his Chapter’s endeavors to take wounded veterans, and America’s veterans, on hunting and fishing trips. The outpouring support is a tribute to Dick’s ability to get people and resources involved. As is my habit, I researched SCI to learn more about what they do and am truly amazed at their worldwide conservation efforts. Then I find out that I am being submitted for SCI Foundation’s Pathfinder Award, for 2014. Somehow, the judges deemed me worthy and I attended the 2015 Convention in Las Vegas to accept the Award.
There I met the truly great stewards of God’s resources across the world. I got to meet the owners and staff of Jan Oelofse Hunting Safaris of Namibia who donated my hunting trip to their land. The other part of the Pathfinder Award is a Life Membership in SCI. Additionally, my son, whom I raised in the outdoors and who served America as one of her Army Rangers in the Global War on Terrorism, was granted the task of being my “Care Giver,” on this safari. We got to spend more time together on this safari then when he was at home and graduated from high school in 2004 and became 9th generation Army in the family’s lineage.
A trip of a lifetime started on July 14, 2015. The hunting lodge at Jan Oelofse Hunting Safaris is a first class luxury accommodation. Annette Oelofse and her son Alex with his wife Corolla, continue the legacy of Jan, who was chosen by SCI in 1982 as the Most Outstanding Professional Hunter. Plus, Jan’s life was portrayed by John Wayne in the movie “Hatari!”. The food prepared by Naomi was the best I have had in years. Our server, Tesi, was an enjoyable person at each meal and Moses took care of washing our clothes. Oscar took care of skinning my ten animals. Brigitte did a great job of managing our stay at the lodge and all parts of our time there. I was truly blessed to spend 10 to 12 hours a day with my assigned Professional Hunter, Rudie de Klerk. He ensured each day was very eventful and his expertise gave me the opportunity to take my assigned ten animals. He is truly a great professional. The vehicle used for hunting had a great adaptation for get me in and out of it. The terrain we traversed was truly beautiful. I think Highveld Taxidermy are the best in their business.
A great highlight of this trip was the time I spent at the Mount Etjo Private School, on site and provided by the Oelofse family. I took an SCI Foundation Blue Bag with donated school supplies, soccer balls and other items the kids and the school can utilize. The kids were well mannered and I think enjoyed me and my electric wheelchair, as I took some for a ride standing on the back and allowed others to steer my chair with the drive knob. I commend the Oelofse family for taking the opportunity to help these children even after they graduate from their school.
It is important to note that me, as a triple amputee using an electric wheelchair, enjoyed a safe and healthy environment and was totally accommodated throughout this trip, and at no time was I put in harm’s way. The trip, start to finish, is a testament to the ability of SCI Foundation and Jan Oelofse Hunting Safaris to handle a disabled hunter.
July 28, 2015 came and a dream come true ended. I was blessed to enjoy the interaction of every facet of the trip and will never be able to pay back all that was provided, as part of this Pathfinder Award.
As I have travelled year-round as a public speaker for the past 45 years, I share a quote from John Ruskin, who said, “Man’s greatest award for his toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it.” SCI provided me the opportunity to “become more than I was before,” and my trip of a lifetime will be a great part of the good things that have happened to me in my journey through life.
THANK YOU to everyone who made one of my “bucket list” items a reality!–Tommy Clack