The embossed lettering on the front begins with a common phrase: “In Recognition of…”
Basically, it’s just a block of wood. Heavy and polished with brass appointments and a brass emblem supported by two pedestals—a lion striding across two halves of a globe. The embossed lettering on the front begins with a common phrase: “In Recognition of.”
The Safari Club International gives out two of them every year. With thousands of members worldwide and anyone with a physical disability eligible to receive it, one might consider it quite an honor. But awards themselves don’t mean much to a man in Michael Roy’s position. What really matters is the opportunity that comes with it.
Years ago, immersed in his Peter Capstick novels, he could only imagine such a life—that of a professional hunter in Africa.
Dying man’s wish
The statue, sitting alone on a living room mantelpiece, too new to have begun collecting dust, is more than just a few pounds of polished wood and brass. It is nothing less than a dying man’s lifelong wish.
Wheelchair-bound since age seven following a battle with polio, Roy has been a relatively avid hunter throughout his life. He took his first deer when he was 18. He never thought it would be possible, but he will soon be leaving on the hunting trip to top them all.
On April 3, a month before his 60th birthday, he will leave to hunt plains game in Namibia. He will finally be able to see the far-off country he has only read about.
The staff of Jan Oelofse Hunting Safaris has been very accommodating. They are even making special arrangements for his wheelchair.
Over the last 25 years or so, Roy, a Bessemer resident all his life, has been an activist for the disabled, serving as a board member and president of the Alabama Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities for several years. It is the largest disabilities organization in the state. During that time, he organized lobbies and protests, fought for disabilities legislation and was instrumental in improving conditions for the handicapped in Alabama.
He was invited to the White House to witness President George Bush Sr. sign the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he helped support. “It was a real honor,” he said. “There were people there from all over the world who were interested in it and wanted to take it back to their own country.”
He saw his efforts rewarded. When the City of Birmingham wanted to discontinue the paratransit system, Roy and his group stood in the terminal, blocking any busses from getting through. Then Transit Authority President Bernard Kincaid yielded to their demands, and the system stayed.
Roy has been in front of the state Capitol in Montgomery on countless occasions.
“We did whatever it took to make things better,” he explained.
While working on his accounting degree at the University of Alabama, he had to be carried up and down stairs to his classes. There were no cutouts in curbs for wheelchair access, so he had to pay someone $500 per month. In the 1960s, that was a considerable sum.
“There are so many things the average person just doesn’t think about,” he said. “It’s not that they don’t care; it’s just that they don’t understand.”
Shortly after college, Roy was for some reason scheduled to appear in the Bessemer courthouse. He had to take his wheelchair through the jail and past lines of prisoners to get into the courtroom. These are some of the things he has fought to change. And much to his satisfaction, many of them have.
In the mid 1990s, Roy realized that he knew of no hunting club in the state that catered to the disabled. He and his friend John Ramsey, who had recently been paralyzed from an 11-foot fall from a tree stand while deer hunting, decided to start one. Catering strictly to the mobility impaired, Disabled Sportsmen of Alabama currently has about 35 members who go on organized hunts several times each year.
It is the work he has done for others and his own success in spite of his condition that earned him recognition from the worldwide organization. A couple that loves to travel, Roy and his wife, Judy, are looking forward to spending their 18th anniversary in Africa. She’s not much of a hunter, but there will be plenty of time for them to be together. They try to plan at least one big trip per year. With an all-expense paid trip to a five-star hunting resort and a stay-as-long-as-you-like invitation, this year’s vacation has already been decided. The couple plans to return after 19 days.
The rigors of travel will be a concern, despite a direct flight from Atlanta to Cape Town. Fortunately, Roy’s primary caregiver will be by his side. “She keeps me going,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d be without her.”
It has been a tough year for him. The flight to Reno for the Safari Club Awards Banquet took its toll. He finds it increasingly difficult to do the things he loves.
“Polio has a way of coming back on you,” he said. This condition was only worsened by the reappearance in 2002 of the esophageal cancer he fought in 1996. At the onset of the second bout, doctors gave him two years to live.
“That was a year and a half ago,” he said.
The cancer is currently in remission, but the treatments themselves are physically exhausting. “I thought I was going to die on a hunting trip in Iowa last year,” he said.
Through it all, however, Roy has never let any physical impairment totally control his life. His is still living and is still doing the things he enjoys.
“Africa is intriguing to me,” he said, speaking with evident conviction and an absence of fear. “It’s a different world over there. And I am looking forward to seeing it.”
Every square inch of it.
By Jason Tucker
The Western Star