Brad Marcello has big dreams.
And he hasn’t let a genetic bone disorder that has resulted in about 150 fractures and numerous surgeries prevent him from pursuing his passions, including hunting.
“I love the outdoors,” said the 17-year-old from Somerset, Wis. His tracked and powered wheelchair provides access to the countryside, where he fishes, camps and hunts turkeys, bear, whitetails — and elk. “It’s a blast,” he said. “I love everything outside.”
Last fall, one of his big dreams came true when he went on a trip of a lifetime to Idaho and bagged a huge 5X6 bull elk, using a rifle mounted to his chair.
“I was kind of in shock,” he said. “I couldn’t say anything but ‘wow’ when we got up to it and I saw how big it was. I’ve never seen an animal that big.”
Among those witnessing Marcello’s adventure was Eric Steingraber of Hudson. Steingraber and his wife, Missy, both avid hunters who in 2012 formed Shot for Hope, a nonprofit group that offers young hunters with life-threatening illnesses or life-altering disabilities an all-expenses-paid hunt of their dreams.
Marcello was their first recipient.
“It was a life-changing experience for me,” said Steingraber, 40. “It’s so inspiring to see someone accomplish that. It was overpowering. He had a lot of challenges out there.”
Including rain and steep terrain.
“It was like straight up,” said Marcello, “and I told them I wasn’t going to go up. But I didn’t have a choice.”
He made it to the top, where he shot his elk.
“Without Shot for Hope, we couldn’t have done this,” said Marcello’s mom, Lori Gebhard. “You’re talking a lot of money.”
The Steingraber’s 13-year-old daughter, Cali, has cerebral palsy. She was given a chance to go on a hunt in northern Wisconsin with adaptive equipment, and Eric Steingraber said it opened his eyes to the possibilities. So they started Shot for Hope.
“Parents don’t understand their kids can do this,” he said.
Hunting opens doors
Marcello, a junior at Somerset High School, has osteogenesis imperfecta, also called brittle bone disease, characterized by fragile bones that break easily. There is no cure.
“We quit counting fractures, but it’s between 150 and 155,” Gebhard said. “And he’s had five surgeries, the last in 2012 to stabilize scoliosis in his spine.”
Said Marcello: “I had to lay flat for six months. That drove me nuts. It was boring.”
He can’t walk, and uses his power chair to get around. His rifle mounts to the chair, which absorbs the recoil that otherwise could break his bones.
The family didn’t hunt, but Marcello wanted to try, so he took gun safety training at 12.
“He thought hunting was something he could participate in like his peers, unlike football or baseball,” his mom said. “That’s his passion now. Hunting has really helped his self-esteem and made him more social.”
And she said the help the family has received has been overwhelming.
“The hunting community has the most caring and generous people,” Gebhard said. “They’ll do anything to help.”
Marcello works part-time during the summer at one of Somerset’s tubing parks, and he’s an honorary volunteer at the Somerset Fire Department. He wants to be a 911 dispatcher.
“I’ve always liked the emergency field, and since I can’t be a firefighter or paramedic, I thought being a dispatcher would be a good choice for me,” he said.
Gebhard said her son’s attitude dealing with his disease has been an inspiration.
“He’s taught us compassion and patience and how to be positive,” she said. “No matter what the situation is, he’s so happy and positive all the time.
“He doesn’t complain or feel sorry for himself. It is his life, and he’s making the best of it. He’s very, very happy and very satisfied with his life.”
Said Marcello: “I really don’t like to talk about my disability — I just try to do everything that everyone else is doing.”
Meanwhile, the family has enjoyed meals of elk.
“It’s better than any meat I’ve had,” Marcello said.
And a shoulder mount of his trophy hangs in the family’s living room.
“It doesn’t really go with the decor,” quipped his mom.
“It makes our TV seem small,” Marcello said.