Letters From an Athlete is a series that focuses on showcasing some of our Athletes who are proud to represent and be supported by High Fives. It’s also a chance for us to show off how appreciative the Foundation is to continue to support these individuals as they chase dreams, complete goals, and inspire others.
Words and Photo by Ira Edwards
Hi all! My name is Ira Edwards, and I was paralyzed in November 2010 after a leaning tree crushed me while working on some ski trails in Alaska. In 2011, I became High Fives Foundation Athlete #10. I lived to ski and skied to live. The foundation shared those values with me and was integral in my getting back to living life. I will be eternally grateful for that help in times of uncertainty and doubt.
I moved to Alaska when I was 8yrs old. My dad worked as a nurse with the Public Health Service at the Alaska Native Hospital. Over the last 39 years here, I’ve lived, worked, and traveled in dozens of rural villages and become a die-hard Alaskan. I have toured the USA and visited all the Americas and most of the world in my skiing and fishing adventures. I made life choices after many years of formal education that allowed me to do that. Despite seeing the world and different cultures, Alaska is my home, without a doubt! I have skied all the major mountain ranges, rafted and paddled the major rivers, biked all the main roads and highways, and been fortunate enough to work in many places with amazing views and fishing while not working. Some of my work involved fishing too.
I was the oldest of 6 kids. Children are expensive, and we sure ate a lot! LOL! As a result, we didn’t have a lot of things while growing up. But we sure had a blast. Fishing became an easy way to feed the family, and I learned from friends and their parents how to limit out and bring home a lot of food. I worked on farms butchering animals, and we occasionally got Road Killed moose meat, but hunting was not a big part of my family’s life. During college, I was introduced to the subsistence culture while working in rural villages. I learned how to smoke fish and call for moose. I participated in subsistence harvests of fish and birds that most people from big cities never get to experience.
While I’m not opposed to eating beef, I have been blessed enough to not have to buy red meat in more than 25yrs. Hunting for me is a way to get outdoors with my friends, enjoy the fall colors in Alaska and fill my freezer with lean healthy meat. I did this before my paralysis, and I have harvested and packaged animals in the years since my injury.
I have never been a trophy hunter. The only time I have taken a bigger animal was when there were several choices, and the bigger ones have more meat. I have been grateful that many friends have come along in the years since my paralysis to take me out on their ATVs and Side by Side rigs to fill my freezer. In 2020, the Chive Charities and the High Fives Foundation helped me purchase my own Side by side to allow me to help others with disabilities get outdoors.
I have now taken several people with disabilities with me on adventure trips to glaciers and to see the beauty of Alaska. It’s been amazing to see the joy in people’s faces that could not otherwise get out there and, in many of these cases, had never been deep in the outdoors before their injuries.
It has been a dream of mine to be able to help other people with disabilities to do the VERY traditional Alaskan thing of “bringing home the bacon” by harvesting an animal. I have worked hard to make that happen for myself, and now I was able to do that for another person with a disability! My childhood friend has cerebral palsy and was my only friend with a disability growing up. But she was just my friend, and didn’t think of her as different. After a lifetime of having her family shoot animals for her on Proxy, we finally got her to harvest her own wild game! This year, I borrowed a lot of equipment and camping gear to set up a real camp by hauling in trailers many miles off the highway in the wilds of Alaska. It was beautiful with great views and fall colors and the access was easier with the SxS as there were miles and miles of old mining roads from
the search for gold in Alaska. With my dream coming to fruition, and we were able to bring home 2 moose and a caribou. While we were primarily on a meat hunt and the animals weren’t big, we still processed over 1,000 lbs of meat for the several families involved in the hunt. Moose are the largest members of the deer family, and a mature bull can yield over 600 lbs of processed meat. We stayed warm in the borrowed tents and even had a canvas wall tent and wood stove to hang out in after the one day that it was cold, rainy, and windy! Overall, it was a beautiful trip with friends, and showed that I could make it work in taking out another hunter with a disability. I’m hoping to be able to take more people with spinal/CNS related disabilities out in future years. I’m a certified rifle instructor and had to relearn how to shoot after my paralysis, so even if the next friend isn’t currently a great shot, I can be a fun coach… I’m really looking forward to next year!!! Thanks to High Fives Foundation for the years of support 😊