OKABENA — From the mounted head of a horned antelope to the perching wild tom turkey, and from the sprawling black bear skin rug to a pair of mounted deer heads, Lloyd Kalfs’ Okabena home is filled with trophies from experiences he’s had in the great outdoors.
Amid the displays are photographs of Kalfs on his adventures in northern Minnesota, Wyoming and South Dakota. One captures him while fly-fishing in a stream in the Black Hills. That one, he says, was taken the week before his accident.
The car crash on that evening of June 15, 2013, left Kalfs a quadriplegic, but it hasn’t dampened his spirits and his quest to enjoy all that life and the outdoors has to offer.
“One of the things that drives me most is I want to be an inspiration to other people — to especially go out and do what you want to do,” he said. “We live in a place and time that if you want to do something, there’s a will and a way to do it.
“I’m living proof of that.”
Kalfs grew up on a farm a couple of miles south of Okabena, graduating from then-Southwest Star Concept in the spring of 2007. During high school he was active in the FFA, competing in the fish and wildlife and ag mechanics judging teams, and earning a trip to the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky on the nursery and landscape team.
His interest in everything outdoors led him to Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin in the fall of 2007, where he majored in natural resources and played four years of college basketball.
“They’re the No. 2 school in Wisconsin as far as fish and wildlife,” Kalfs said of the college, located an hour east of Duluth along the shore of Lake Superior. “It was a very fun place to go to college and to be an outdoorsman.”
Following graduation in the spring of 2011 — seven months after his father’s death — Kalfs returned to Okabena and began working as a water resource technician for the Cottonwood County Soil and Water Conservation District in Windom. He’d been in the job for two years when, on a summer evening drive toward home, Kalfs’ life was forever changed.
“I had a heart condition I didn’t know about,” he shared. “My heart stopped when I was driving, and that’s what caused the accident.”
Kalfs was alone in the car when it left the roadway and rolled three times in a ditch a mile from his house, and a mile from the farm where he’d grown up. A neighbor discovered the crash when he saw headlights shining into a farm field.
Two vertebrae in Kalfs’ neck were broken in the crash, the C6 and C7, which caused the spinal injury and paralysis. Doctors surgically fused the neck and, while in the intensive care unit, it was discovered that Kalfs’ heart would occasionally stop beating — once for slightly more than a minute.
“At that point, my family decided to put a pacemaker in, and I’ve had that ever since,” he shared.
Kalfs was sent to the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska for therapy, but while there he began experiencing intense pain. An X-ray revealed that the fusion during the original surgery fell apart.
“Essentially I had a broken neck for three weeks,” Kalfs said, noting that the subsequent surgery included three rods and 18 screws in his neck. It’s believed that during the three weeks between the fusion breaking apart and the discovery, additional spinal damage was done.
“With the original injury, I would have had a lot more function in my arms,” Kalfs said. Following the second surgery, doctors weren’t sure what he’d regain for function.
“Some were concerned that I would never get off the ventilator at all at that point,” he added.
Kalfs, though, had other plans.
He spent roughly five months at the rehab hospital in Nebraska, earning his discharge the day before Thanksgiving. By then, his family had found him a home in Okabena that would work for his mobility chair. His mom, Sandy, joined him there a year and a half later.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way
Despite the spinal injury that took away the use of his arms and legs, Kalfs’ passion and drive to pursue outdoor adventures never wavered after he returned home. It was his physical therapist who encouraged him to research devices that could help him.
“She was a hunter,” Kalfs said. “She said ‘there’s stuff out there where you can do this again,’ so I looked into that.”
Thanks to a fundraiser during a girls basketball game at Southwest Star Concept, Kalfs was able to purchase an Action Trackchair from the Action Mobility Foundation. Like a raised wheelchair on tracks, the chair allows him to navigate virtually every terrain.
In the spring of 2015, Kalfs used his new Action Trackchair on a hunt in South Dakota and was able to bag his first wild turkey. Since then, the chair has made it possible for him to join his friends on numerous hunts across three states.
“I’m so blessed. I have the best friends anybody could ask for,” Kalfs said. “Since my accident, I’ve harvested three wild turkeys, a white tail deer and mule deer from Wyoming, a pronghorn antelope in Wyoming and a black bear in northern Minnesota.
“Who would have thought I’d be able to go out hunting when I don’t have use of my arms and legs?” he asked. “You just have to have a passion for doing it.”
Kalfs has a mount that braces the gun on his Action Trackchair. He moves a joystick with either his chin or his mouth to move the gun up or down, left or right.
“I aim the gun with my mouth and pull the trigger by sipping on a straw that pulls the mechanism of the trigger,” he explained. The kickback can rock his chair pretty good, he added.
Kalfs is also able to shoot with a muzzleloader from his chair, and now has started experimenting with a crossbow.
“You have to tinker and think and figure out what’s going to work,” he said. “I think it’s time to break that crossbow in with an antelope hunt.”
Tales to tell
Last October, Kalfs turned his love of all things outdoors into a weekly column he now writes for his hometown newspaper, the Tri-County News in Heron Lake.
Writing about the outdoors was something he’d considered already in childhood as he read and learned new tips and tricks from the outdoors magazines to which his family subscribed.
“I learned so much from publications like that, and I thought some day I’d like to write my own outdoors stories,” Kalfs said. “I had a good friend in college who had done some outdoor writing, and I had encouragement from friends who said I should keep pursuing this.”
Kalfs uses a program with his computer that dictates speech to text.
“It’s pretty much as fast as I can talk,” he said.
Kalfs basically talks into a microphone, and Dragon converts it to text on his computer screen. This is how he writes his weekly newspaper column.
“Since I’ve gotten that set-up, it’s allowed me to be more active on the computer — I’m able to do more things and do things easier,” he said.
Kalfs has written about pheasant counts, conservation, turkey hunting, farming practices and farm drainage thus far.
“I kind of want it to have something for everyone,” he said.
Kalfs hopes someday to write stories for an outdoors magazine — stories that span all of his years of experience.
“I have a lot of good memories, but those things aren’t in my past,” he said. “I plan on making many more memories outdoors.”