When Rheanna Haeg took her son to an informational meeting of the Shakopee High School Trap Club a few years back, what she heard inspired her and gave her hope.
Part of the presentation revolved around the story of a young man who used a wheelchair and eventually participated in the high school trapshooting state tournament in Alexandria.
Haeg immediately thought of her son, Jaz Krulikosky, who was forced to give up football and other school sports because of a debilitating and often mysterious ailment called cavus foot.
“I was really, really moved by that story,” Haeg said. “It showed me that no matter your ability, no matter your lot in life, shooting trap is a sport for everyone. I thought, ‘This is something my son can do and feel good about himself.’ ”
Added Haeg: “That night changed everything.”
Now, on the eve of another prep trapshooting season, much has transpired for Haeg and her son. After years of volunteering for the trap team, Haeg, 39, is now the club’s head coach and president. Meanwhile, Krulikosky, 16, is a veteran trapshooter and letter winner whose life has been transformed by the fast-growing, nontraditional high school sport.
But it wasn’t always easy, especially for Krulikosky. Cavus foot, a condition in which the foot has an extremely high arch, can severely limit mobility and had prevented him from playing most sports. He loved football, which his older brother played, and he had wanted to follow in his footsteps.
Krulikosky’s condition also required major reconstructive surgery. Over six hours, bones were broken, nerves were cut and screws were inserted into both feet. Weeks of painful convalescence and physical therapy followed. Krulikosky said he basically had to teach himself to walk again.
“Cavus foot affected the way I walked and my ability to run,” Krulikosky said. “I’d trip and fall a lot when I’d run. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone.”
The combination of hardships took a heavy toll on Krulikosky. Depression set in. Suicidal thoughts, he said, occupied his mind. He said he occasionally cut himself with a razor as a way to “distract” from his physical and emotional pain.
Krulikosky also became socially reclusive, pushing away friends and family, even his mother.
“I ended up finding the razor,” Haeg said. “Something had to change.”
Though he initially refused, Krulikosky started seeing a therapist. He learned breathing exercises to deal with his anxiety and started writing about his feelings in a journal.
“What I’ve learned about therapy is that you have to put in the work,” he said. “I started to open up, and it helped. It helped me put things into perspective. It’s something I’d definitely recommend to others. Don’t let any stigma stop you from getting help. Depression doesn’t just go away.”
After his mother took him to the Shakopee Trap Club’s informational meeting, Krulikosky’s spirits rose. He wasn’t a complete stranger to firearms or trapshooting, which, he said, eased his transition into the sport.
“I shot trap before, but not with a club,” he said. “I enjoyed it from the start. It was an activity I could do without running. I could just be myself.”
Shakopee High School’s 2020 trap season, which starts later this month, marks Krulikosky’s fourth year with the club. He and 70-plus teammates practice and compete every Tuesday at the Minnesota Horse & Hunt Club in Prior Lake.
“I love being around my teammates and just having fun,” he said.
Krulikosky said he owns and shoots two 12-gauge shotguns — a Remington pump and a Mossberg over-and-under, which he won at a year-end banquet. In addition to lettering, he has competed in the state trapshooting tournament in Alexandria and often shoots well.
“I’ve gotten better and better over the years,” he said. “With trap, you’re not competing against an opponent; you’re competing against yourself, and I like that.”
Shooting well, he said, requires intense concentration throughout the round. “When the pigeon is in the air, you have to slow things down and focus on the target,” he said. “More than anything, it’s really a lot of fun and I encourage others to give it a try, like I did.”
Bob Pulk, Shakopee High School’s trapshooting coach before Haeg, said, “I didn’t know anything about Jaz until I approached Rheanna about taking over for me. She told me his story and it really struck a chord with me.
“You never really know what kids are going through,” he said. “This team gave him a place and a purpose, a feeling of belonging. When I first met him, he didn’t say much. But he’s really opened up and he’s grown a lot. It’s been a real pleasure watching him mature into the young man he is today.”
As Haeg prepares for her first season as coach, she said she has a lot to do “and a lot to learn.”
“But I’m loving every minute of it and really excited for the season to start,” she said.
More important, she loves knowing that every Tuesday she’ll be with her son.
“It’s our time together and it’s a bond we share,’’ she said. “Trapshooting means a lot to both of us. It’s really changed our lives.”
Tori J. McCormick is freelance outdoors writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.