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Special Report: The Will to Hunt

This fall if he's not at therapy trying to reach a goal, Warren Nelson probably out in the woods trying to hit a target.

CHARLEVOIX COUNTY, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU)-- Every fall, hunters around Northern Michigan go to great lengths to make sure they find time to head to the woods. Few though have gone to the lengths of a Charlevoix County young man, who decided after a life-changing accident that nothing would keep him from spending time in the field.

Sitting around the kitchen table, the conversation flows freely between Warren Nelson and his dad Chris. The topic this morning, an 8-point buck that has eluded Warren during archery season. It’s a subject matter, and a pastime, that’s been a staple of this household for years. "We’ve been hunting for about 20 years since he started going out with me when he was about 5 years old I would say" recalls Chris.

The pair has spent countless fall days in the field. Like with so many other families, hunting has just always been one of those things that brought them together. But it's not the only passion that this pair shared. Warren Nelson knew how to get around a dirt track on a motorcycle faster than most. He was an upcoming star in super cross and his dad, could often be found track-side, as one of his biggest supporters. But three years ago, one of their shared passions could have taken away the other.

"I was practicing for the upcoming super-cross season and I just made, the section that I did every day, a small mistake and I ended up going head first into the ground. My T8 vertebrate broke and it hit my spinal cord" explains Warren. He goes on to explain "I tried to sit up once I hit the ground, and I just couldn't do it, and I was like "Oh, I can't feel my legs."

Emergency surgeries followed by weeks in the hospital and there was no improvement in his paralysis. It didn’t take long for Warren to have the realization that his life had completely changed.

Flipping through pictures from shortly after the accident, of Warren in the hospital, of him starting his physical therapy, or a trip through the hallways in his recently-necessary wheelchair, it’s almost impossible to not notice that in every picture, even in his darkest moments, appears a smile on his face and a glimmer of determination in his eyes. It’s just in his nature. "I believe I am going to walk again, I just don't know how long it's going to take, it's all on God's timing" explains Warren.

While Warren believes he’s getting help from above on that mission, he’s doing everything he can to make sure he is doing his part. "I do therapy 5 days a week at out-patient rehab places, 3 weeks in a row and 1 week off." He's trying to retrain his body to get nerves to fire across or around a gap in his spine that shouldn't be there. He's up to crawling. "I see small gains, it just takes so long with nerves and spinal cord itself to actually see improvements" says Warren.

Those improvements happen, but they are slow coming. Warren and Chris have an arrangement. Warren works at his physical therapy, and his dad doesn't shave. When asked about his lengthy beard, Chris explains, "The beard is just symbolic. When we went to Florida and Warren was in intensive care, I made a statement that I wasn't going to shave until he can get out of his chair, walking again, so it continues to grow for now, while he continues to make progress, but the beard comes off some day."

Warren's not walking, yet, but he decided shortly after his accident that he wasn't going to put his life on hold. He knew he wanted to get back to his normal day to day activities, but that left he with questions. "You think, oh, how am I going to hunt again? Or go fishing? How am I going to go out on a date and enjoy life?" remembers Warren.

As it turns out, he has found a way on all those things. He’s back to fishing, back to hunting, and is making plans with his fiancé for a wedding next year. Warren says, "you learn to adapt, you figure out what there is to actually help you do that stuff, and you learn."

Warren has found a way to get back to the woods. He has an all-terrain motorized wheel chair that allows him to get just about anywhere in the woods by himself. He’s become extremely proficient with both a compound bow and his crossbow. Instead of making excuses to not hunt anymore, he has found ways to make it happen.

His life changed in the blink of an eye, but nobody gave up on Warren and he didn't give up on the things that were most important to him. This fall if he's not at therapy trying to reach a goal, he’s probably out in the woods trying to hit a target. "You are all by yourself, you are independent, and you are enjoying your time, you are not worried about therapy, you are not worried about "oh my legs don't work." You are just out there in the woods not thinking about that" explains Warren.

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