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About Utah: Disabled get their guns — and outdoors

There is no "disabled accessible" placard anywhere visible on Mark Robison's pickup truck. Which is odd. Because there may not be another human on planet Earth who gets the disabled more access than he does.

Mark puts the wheelchair-bound in places some have never been and others thought they thought they'd never, ever go back.

He deposits them in duck blinds; he ensconces them at the bottom of ravines where elk like to come for an afternoon break; he perches them on the edges of cliffs and atop remote mountains.

He takes them hunting.

No one told him to do this. It all started innocently enough seven years ago when Mark, an avid hunter, was "b.s.-ing about hunting" with a bunch of guys in the tire store he manages in Sandy and he asked a customer, Bret Remington, if he hunted.

"Does it look like it?" huffed Remington, gripping the sides of his wheelchair.

The next thing either of them knew, they were out in the wilds, together.

It was not only the start of an enduring friendship but an epiphany for Mark, who after organizing the trip, hefting Remington and his chair here, there and everywhere, soaking up the great outdoors and talking about it all the way home, discovered something he loved even more than hunting: watching other people hunt. Particularly people who were convinced their hunting days were over.

"The look in their eyes, the excitement. ..," says Mark, groping for the right words. "I think I get more enjoyment out of it than they do, to be honest with you."

He started MTM Hunting, an organization devoted to help the physically challenged not get off their butt and still hunt to their heart's content.

MTM stands for Mark (that's him), Tina (that's his wife) and Mike (that's his best friend, Mike Olson). By word of mouth and who knows how many phone calls, hundreds of disabled Utahns have gone hunting because of MTM since 2003.

But not everyone who is physically challenged has had the opportunity — which is why Mark has decided to expand.

MTM Hunting is affiliating with the Wheelin' Sportsmen, an outreach program of the National Wild Turkey Federation that has the exact same goals as MTM.

The Turkey Federation is holding its annual Hunting Heritage Banquet in two weeks — 6 p.m. Saturday, March 6, at the Airport Hilton — and Mark is urging everyone to support the combination fundraiser/hunting celebration.

The Wheelin' Sportsmen are very active with disabled hunters in the eastern part of the country, he says, and this is an opportunity to move that activity level farther west.

"This lets more people get involved," says Mark. "Disabled hunters, especially, need to support this. The rewards are just so great."

Justin Fuller will second that. Justin, 32, was paralyzed from the waist down 10 years ago in an automobile accident. He was feeling pretty sorry for himself until his dad and brothers — and Mark Robison — hoisted him up and got him back out hunting.

"I feel like part of the reason I survived my accident is because I like to hunt so much, and I realized I could still do it," says Justin. "When I first got out there and started hunting again, it was just an overwhelming joy. I was almost in tears because I was able to do something I could do before, something I love."

Justin embraced the spirit of MTM Hunting so much that Mark named him president. He has been a valuable catalyst in getting plenty of his disabled comrades out there with him.

"We've taken plenty of guys who thought they'd never be able to hunt again," he says. "Just seeing them so happy, watching them realize what they can do instead of what they can't do, makes you feel so good. It keeps you positive."

"Buddies helping buddies," is how Mark Robison sums it up. "It really is a tremendous feeling."

For banquet information (or to line up a hunt), call Mark at 801-910-0896 or e-mail Lesliefowlks@hotmail.com.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.