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“I’ll make it happen.”
Lanny was clinically dead when he arrived in the hospital over two decades ago. Today, he is sitting under the overhang of the small shed down at the archery range. It’s been drizzling all morning, but it starts to get heavier just as I reach the shed. He is reading the paper as kids and adult alike shoot at the large, round targets only 35 feet downrange. His assistant blows the whistle, and the archers set down their bows and go to retrieve their arrows.
This is the archery rage on the Silver Bay Campus, on the edge of Lake George in the Adirondacks. Lanny, turning the page of the newspaper, is the one who runs the range.
Yesterday when I came down to shoot with my friends, I took the heaviest bow they had on the wall; a relative lightweight at a 25 pound draw. Lanny comments as he hands me the bow, and I reply:
“I usually shoot 35.” He nods.
“So do I. Much heavier than that tends to bother my neck.” As he hands me the bow, and turns to get me some arrows, I make conversation.
“How did you hurt your neck?”
“I broke it,” he said, handing me the arrows. I take the arrows, and hold them at my side. I ask after a moment of hesitation.
“May I ask how?” I’ve been to this camp, and this range for three summers. I’ve never really spoken with Lanny before, only enough to know he’s a quiet and reserved man that doesn’t seem to like to talk about himself, only archery and theatre. I was about to find out why. He nodded, and then took a moment to search for a word to start.
When Lanny was brought to the hospital, he was barely alive. 27 years ago, Lanny was working backstage. He worked in technical theatre, mostly light design and I could tell by his tone of voice that he really enjoyed it. When I asked if he had ever acted, he shook his head.
“I never had any interest in it,” he said. “Get me in back and I’ll make it happen.”
And so when he was backstage, a steel pipe fell 60 feet from the lighting in the ceiling and struck him in the back of the head, breaking his neck.
He said when he arrived at the hospital he was comatose, with no pulse and no muscle reaction in his entire upper body. They thought he might be brain dead, at best, if they performed emergency surgery.
By chance, there was a prestigious neurosurgeon who happened to be in town, in the very same hospital for one day. It was almost unbelievable, but it was not a sure thing by any means. If he survived at all, would he be paralyzed? If so, fully or partially?
They preformed the emergency surgery, and the miracle speaks for its self. Lanny sets these targets up and takes them down every morning and evening.
Besides technical theatre, Lanny loves archery. He grew up in a small town in Massachusetts, about as small as you can get, he said, with one gas station and one convenience store. He learned to shoot a bow at Silver Bay at the age of six, with his father. He has been shooting here ever since.
In 1975, he started working on the campus over the summer and he has been teaching archery there for 13 years. Lanny went to school in Ohio and once competed in a statewide tournament, coming in second. He smiled, and added that he felt pretty good about taking second place, seeing as the man who beat him was on the world team.
Pausing, he stands up and reaches for something hanging in the wall. Until now he had seen slightly shy, but now he gets excited. It’s a slightly yellowed plastic case with the center of an archery target framed. The medal he won at the contest sits in one corner. There are lightly penciled Xs over all of the holes in the paper. All are in the yellow rings, either nines or tens a nearly perfect round.
He said that the focus it takes to shoot, and to shoot well, carried over into school. He thinks more kids should shoot. Something I agree with, wholeheartedly.
“It’s the challenge and discipline that mean a lot to me,” he said, hanging the target back on the wall after letting me take a photo and look at the medal. The whole time he was quiet, but earnest. He glances out at the rain often while he talks with me. People have slowly left the range and gone to their cabins. As a fellow archery teacher, a 4-H volunteer, I know that these straw targets need to be covered in the rain, so I leave him and his assistant to their work.
I shook his hand and thanked him before jogging off to the house that the other young writers and I are staying for the week. Once I reach the porch, where all my friends are sitting I sit down in one of the rocking chairs and drop my notebook on the dry porch.
“I think I got the best interview guys,” I say proudly.
“Was it worth getting caught in the rain?” Another girl asks. I nod, smiling.