Dave Guzzi wheeled his chair down a gravel path to a wooden platform amid the heavily forested Minnesota River bottom in Bloomington.
Hunting partner Jayme Welsh quickly set up a ground blind, Guzzi wheeled inside and Welsh handed him his crossbow.
Though he was in the heart of the Twin Cities, not far from traffic-choked freeways, ball fields and manicured suburban yards, Guzzi — disabled from an accident — was deer hunting on a blustery September afternoon, just minutes from his home.
“They got a deer here last week,’’ he said.
The platform that Guzzi, 55, of Burnsville, used last week is one of three new ones recently added to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, 14,000 acres of woods, water and wildlife that stretches from the Mall of America to Henderson.
“I’ve been trying to get these built for 15 years,’’ said Guzzi, volunteer outreach coordinator and an active member of Capable Partners Inc., a Twin Cities-based nonprofit that for 28 years has provided hunting, angling and other outdoor recreation opportunities for disabled people.
It has about 300 members, half of whom are disabled and half able-bodied volunteers. There are no paid employees.
“Without Capable Partners, there wouldn’t be access to the outdoors for people like me,’’ said Guzzi. “There’s no other group that I’m aware of that has outings 12 months of the year.’’
The group also has pushed for increased access for disabled hunters and anglers. The three new hunting platforms in the Minnesota Valley Refuge are evidence of their success.
Guzzi not only helps guide other disabled hunters and coordinate hunts, he is a familiar face at the State Capitol, where he monitors and testifies on legislation that might affect disabled hunters and anglers.
Life changed forever
Guzzi grew up in St. Louis Park in a family that hunted and fished.
“I spent every waking moment thinking about fishing and hunting, and dreamed of living in the wilderness,’’ he said. He also was an avid backpacker and downhill skier.
Then in 1996, as he was preparing to paint his house, he fell from a ladder.
“I was on the roof deck stepping onto the ladder,’’ he said. It slid and he fell. “It was only about 8 feet, but it’s not how far you fall. I landed on top of the ladder, right in the middle of my back.’’
The spinal injury cost him the use of his legs.
“It was devastating,’’ Guzzi said. “But you either lay around and mope and be depressed or get up and do something. I chose to get up and do something. Besides, I had two young kids to raise — I couldn’t afford to sit around and mope.’’