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Wheelchair doesn't stop Nisswa man from pursuing his passions

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Hank Ebert of Nisswa is a veteran, athlete, fishing guide and volunteer with a passion for being on the water, catching fish and meeting people.

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Hank was born in Minneapolis, and after he got out of high school in 1966, he joined the Navy.

“I spent four years in the Navy and ended up in a helicopter search and rescue squadron,” Hank said. In the squadron he was a combat rescue swimmer.

In 1970, shortly after he got out of the Navy, Hank was injured in a motorcycle-car accident. Hank was riding his Harley-Davidson when he was hit by a drunk driver. The accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

The accident didn’t stop Hank. He then went to college for about four years.

“When I got tired of that, I moved up here and became a fishing guide. Marv Koep hired me, and I became a member of his famous Nisswa Guides League,” Hank said.

Hank has been a fishing guide for the past 37 years.

“I enjoy being on the water, I enjoy catching fish and I enjoy meeting new people,” he said.

North Long, Gull, Round and Whitefish lakes are the best fishing lakes in the area, Hank said.

“Around here we have some fantastic fishing at times,” he said.

Hank thinks that smallmouth bass are the most fun to catch since they fight the most.

“Most of the fun is just fighting the fish,” he said.

“I just do catch and release, catch and throw them back. It’s too good of a resource to be abusing,” Hank added.

Fishing is not the only outdoor activity Hank enjoys. For the past 12 years, Hank competed in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which are put on by the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Hank just returned from the 2013 Wheelchair Games that were held July 13-18 in Tampa, Fla. The Veterans Wheelchair Games are held in a different city every year and include a wide variety of events.

Hank competes in the field events of the discus, javelin and shot put as well as archery and trap shooting. He also competed in air rifle for several years before the trap shooting competition was introduced.

Over the past three years Hank has steadily improved in the trap shooting competition.

“The first year I did not get a medal. Last year I got a silver, and this year I took the gold,” Hank said.

“This year I shot a 93 out of 100, which is not that good, but it’s better than anybody else. Obviously a perfect score is 100, and I’ve never shot 100, but I’ve shot a 99,” Hank said.

Over the past 12 years, Hank has won more than 50 medals at the Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Besides his involvement in the Veterans Wheelchair Games, Hank is in a contest put on by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, which he has belonged to since 1970, to win one of three wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Individuals can vote for Hank at pva.org/loveyourcarvote. Voting is open through Aug. 1.

In addition to competing, Hank enjoys watching others compete, specifically in drag racing, a sport he became involved in 25 years ago.

“We used to have an invitational tournament up here for the racers, and I have fished with probably every important drag racer there is,” he said. “I got to know one of them really well — Jim Head — and he and I became friends about 25 years ago.”

“He is my sponsor for the wheelchair games, which is really nice. A lot of guys don’t have a sponsor and they really struggle to go, and I’m just covered,” Hank said.

Head is not only Hank’s friend and sponsor, he also allows Hank to travel across the country and see drag races.

“Any drag race I want to go to, he sends me a ticket, and Sandy, too, and we jump in an airplane and away we go off to some race track,” Hank said.

Sandy is Hank’s girlfriend. Her job at the DNR working with trails and waterways set her up to meet Hank.

“I would see her at the boat ramps. She would be working, fixing the docks and the planks, and whatever, and we would always flirt,” he said.

About three years ago, she left a note on his wheelchair at one of the boat ramps. Hank called her.

“Basically, I said, ‘Do you want to go fishing?’ and she said yes, and the rest is history,” he said.

Hank is also involved with the Brainerd chapter of Fishing Has No Boundaries, an organization that works to get individuals with mental and physical disabilities out fishing.

The Brainerd area event occurs annually on the third weekend in August. About 130 disabled anglers stay at Confidence Learning Center and then go out fishing for the day.

Hank is a board member and fishing guide. He usually guides a few veterans who come to the event.

“It’s just a fantastic organization. You hear these stories that these kids have of why they can’t fish and why they should,” Hank said.

“It’s the one time of year they get to go fishing, and they don’t care what they catch, it could be a 5-inch perch. They’re happy,” he said.

The Brainerd chapter of Fishing Has No Boundaries is prepping for the local event Aug. 23-24. Organizers need regular boats, pontoons and volunteers to help. Interested individuals can find more details at brainerdlakesfhnb.org.

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