So six years ago, the owner of MN Pro Paintball in Lakeville started an event in line with his passions. Five years of annual paintball battles later, Challenge for Children’s has raised more than $270,000 for the nonprofit.

It has also put on a high-octane show. At last year’s battle, a crowd of 750 watched as a former Navy SEAL parachuted onto the field before leading 300 of them into battle against another ex-SEAL’s equally large battalion.

This year’s challenge is set for June 1, and Ames is upping the ante. He’s working to bring the action to Children’s Hospital patients, who would be able to remotely man tower-mounted guns on the field. There will, of course, be National Guard Humvees giving rides through the field during the action at MN Pro Paintball.

And don’t forget the drones flying overhead, dropping paintball “grenades.”

“It’s not a gala,” Ames said.

It raises money just the same. This year’s event is stepping up that mission as well: Challenge for Children’s has pledged a quarter-million dollars to fund part of a simulation center, where surgeons can learn and practice heart surgery.

For Ames, the event is about contributing to Children’s Hospital, to which he owes his life, he said. He has had multiple operations there, including open heart surgeries and two pacemaker implants.

But the event also aims to raise awareness of a condition so challenging that if Ames had been born just a few years earlier, the technology would not have existed to save him.

Part of raising that awareness is the paintball battle: For players and spectators, Ames hopes the excitement of the game will forge not only the memory of a good time, but also a connection to what the young patients at Children’s are going through.

Ames doesn’t need reminding. “I’ve got half the parts doing all the work,” he said of his heart, which is inverted and missing a chamber. Even though he’s faring better than others with the same condition, he will eventually need other procedures and possibly a transplant. He’ll have this challenge his entire life, he said, and that’s why he doesn’t call himself a “survivor.”

“It’s never going away,” he said. “You are fighting each day. Each day.”

To help in the fight, attendees will be able to donate blood — each donor will be able to choose which team gets credit — and, to learn more, they can watch hospital staff re-enact trauma situations in the hospital’s mobile simulation lab.

Paintball isn’t for everyone, Ames admits, so to draw those who want to help without getting bruises, there will be live music, a beer garden and a raffle with online and onsite bidding.

Still, Ames encourages everyone — even first-timers — to join the game.

“As someone who’s been shot thousands of times with a paintball,” he said in a video promoting last year’s event, “I can tell you what hurts more is being a 6-year-old kid going into the hospital, and getting poked and prodded with a thousand different injections and IVs and all others sorts of tests.”


Graison Hensley Chapman is a Northfield freelance writer.