Close your eyes. Imagine yourself in the woods, just before dawn. There’s a slight breeze, making its own music as it rustles in the leaves. You can hear, in the distance, turkeys gobbling on the roost, just starting to wake up. Soon, the sun starts to rise, and you can see patterns through the tree canopy and on the ground. It’s Mother Nature at her finest.
And there’s no place else you’d rather be.
That feeling is exactly what Jason Beard, along with The KT Team, loves to experience themselves, and they want to pass it on to others who love the outdoors as much as they do.
One decision changes a life
The KT Team’s story begins with a tragic event in Beard’s life. Beard was a solid high school athlete who loved to hunt. At 18, he dove into the Savannah River, and was paralyzed after fracturing his C4 and C5 vertebras. Doctors told his parents he’d never walk again, and many times during the first two weeks after the accident, they were told he wouldn’t make it through the night. He developed pneumonia, a staph infection and multiple bed sores.
“I started asking God very difficult questions, like, how do you live paralyzed? Why would you even want to? And could you even enjoy life paralyzed?” he said.
But as he prayed about those things, Beard says he developed an overwhelming peace. When speaking about that time in his life now, Beard quotes John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
“I felt that peace. It was so real and tangible. I knew from that very moment whether I walked out of the hospital or I left in a wheelchair, I knew I could handle it. I’ve tried to live life to the fullest,” he said.
Beard was very active before the accident, including deer hunting, and he knew that he wanted to continue. As soon as he was able, he went hunting with the Shepard Center in Alabama, and after he got home, he developed a passion for turkey hunting. He says he wasn’t very successful at it until he met Kerry Terrell. The two men shared a passion for turkey hunting, and their friendship was forged in that mutual interest. The two have hunted together for almost 20 years.
“We began to notice that it was just a pretty cool experience for everyone,” Beard said. “It takes at least three people to take someone of my level of injury in the woods. So when I would get a turkey, everybody would be in tears, because it was such a team effort.”
A team is born
After one of their more successful hunts, Beard and Terrell started talking. They found the experience of hunting together, and the joy it brought them both was such an amazing experience that they wanted to share it with others. Beard and Terrell founded The KT Team in July 2017 as a nonprofit to raise funds to take other disabled hunters into the outdoors, and their hope is that it will inspire those individuals to live out all their passions in life. The team’s first hunt was in 2018.
“I know everybody is not as fortunate as me to have family and friends, and the team built around to enjoy your passion like that, so we wanted to offer it to whoever would like to hunt with us. That’s how we started The KT Team,” Beard said.
The original foursome for the team included Trey Miller and Elmer Miller, in addition to Beard and Terrell. Beard says he wanted to name The KT Team after Terrell.
“It’s from his unselfish passion and love for a friend. You just don’t stumble on a friend like that in life. Friends like that are a blessing from God,” Beard said. “The ultimate goal for The KT Team is to share my true passion in life, and that is my desire to have a personal relationship with my savior, Jesus Christ. Because that’s where I get my true strength and joy.”
Beard says no matter what your age or situation, you can find joy and enjoy life.
“Whether you’re 18, in perfect health, and trying to win a state championship for our hometown, or you’re more middle-aged, like I am now, and confined to a wheelchair, God blesses that joy, no matter what situation you are in life. I can testify to that, because I am truly a happy man,” he said.
The team is a strong platform, Beard says, for the men to share their faith.
“Not just to share it, but to live it. It was a way to share my faith through good deeds,” he said.
The KT Team has since expanded to include WC Hodges, Zach Conaway, Matt Van Cise, Travis Timms, Steve Sanders and Dave Owens.
Sanders retired from Georgia Southern in 2018. He says he had always enjoyed hunting, and had taken students, family and friends on hunting trips. He grew up with Terrell, but didn’t know his childhood friend had been hunting with Beard. The two men reconnected, and as they were catching up, he learned of Terrell’s friendship with Beard.
“God put something on my heart. I could see and feel the passion that Kerry had about what they had started and what they wanted to develop. So that opportunity knocked on my door, and I was fortunate enough to go on a few hunts and see what they were doing,” he said.
Sanders says it wasn’t about getting the turkey so much as it was the whole concept of taking someone out in the woods and being a part of that team. He says he’s so proud to be a part of the team.
When the men go on a hunt, their day begins at 3:30 a.m., with a nursing assistant getting Beard ready. Sanders and Terrell come over at around 4:30, and get Beard into a van, and they drive him to the woods, often arriving before daylight.
“My favorite time is right at daylight, when God sort of turns on the switch; the suns starts coming up and all the song birds,” Beard says. “Before that, the hoot owls are going, and the turkeys start gobbling on the roost and start waking up. That’s just for me a time when God is just real. I love that part. That’s my favorite part of hunting by far.”
Beard says he also enjoys the fellowship between the team members, as well as with the hunters they serve. When the team takes a group out for a deer hunt, they usually average about eight to 12 hunters. For dove hunts, they have had around 20 to 30 people.
Each hunt takes weeks of planning: hotel rooms have to be booked and accessible vans must be available. There are usually, Beard says, at least three men assisting each disabled hunter.
Hunters that have participated so far, coming from all over the Southeast, as well as other parts of the country, have had all sorts of spinal cord injuries. There have also been many amputees, and various levels of injuries.
None of the hunters has to provide any equipment — The KT Team is a nonprofit so that they can raise funds to provide whatever equipment the hunters need, at no cost to them. Beard says they are still figuring out what is needed.
“There are no limitations on what we can provide as God blesses The KT Team with resources to accommodate each individual’s physical challenges,” Beard said. “These folks are on limited budgets and are just trying to keep up with their basic needs. That’s where The KT Team steps in and says, hey, let’s go have some fun. That’s why we need fundraising and support from anyone that would like to support us.”
All accommodations and meals are also provided, and the team even provides nursing assistance when needed.
“Traveling for me is brutal. There are a million things running through my mind, and it’s not something that I look forward to. For them to have a team from home with them here to hunt, it’s not realistic. Some of our guys will go to the hotel room and help them get dressed, get them in the chair. There’s a lot behind the scenes that has to happen,” Beard said.
The family and friends who support each of the volunteers are also amazing, Sanders added.
“It’s not just the volunteers; it’s the wives and the family members. That support system, the trickle-down effect, it’s amazing to see. There’s a huge team behind the scenes, and that’s awesome,” he said.
More than just hunting
The KT Team was initially started to share the fun the men have when hunting, but the team is expanding to other outdoor activities. They have added fishing and dove hunting, and Beard says they want to include whatever their participants have a passion for.
“When you have a tragic accident of some sort like I had, you lose so much that it’s really important to hang on to what you can do, to continue your quality of life. There’s quite a bit of things that you can’t do, that’s physically impossible. So we have developed some techniques that help people overcome their disabilities. But it took years to do so. We’re still developing ways to get out in the woods,” Beard said.
The team has golf carts with ramps on them, and provides specialized equipment to help disabled hunters. They have worked with Georgia Southern University to develop special wheelchairs and guns for hunting. Beard uses a joystick to maneuver his own gun, and a straw to fire the trigger.
Beard says they hope to establish a lodge and rehabilitation center so that hunters won’t have to worry about travel issues or hotels that aren’t set up to accommodate their needs. The team plans to work on raising funds for that in the future, he says.
Beard is hopeful that God will bless the team with some land and a facility, and with staff. He hopes that they will soon be able to provide outdoor experiences weekly or even daily, instead of going a handful of times each year, as they currently do.
“This is the ultimate goal for The KT Team,” he said.
To find out more about The KT Team, or to donate, go online at www.thektteam.org. You can also contact the team for speaking engagements through the site, and find out more about the team’s fundraising efforts.