Driving into Their Dreams
Extension ATV training helps cancer survivors’ wishes come true
Getting a driver’s license and going through ATV safety training are rites of passage for many Mississippi teens, but, for two young outdoorsmen, achieving these goals meant much more.
Sixteen-year-old Jacob Chastain of Brandon and seventeen-year-old Bradley Steed of Winona completed these tasks as the final steps in journeys that began in 2014 when the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked them what their three wishes were.
Though they had never met before their ATV training in Winona, both Chastain and Steed had been treated by the same doctor at Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson. They had also asked for the same thing: side-by-side ATVs so they could continue to enjoy Mississippi’s wild places with their dads.
Chastain says leukemia and the subsequent treatment would not keep him out of the woods.
“My dad and I hunt on public land, and we have to carry in our stands and all of our gear,” he explains. “By the time I walk a mile or two, I’m pretty worn out, so Dad has to carry everything out. I wanted anything that would help us hunt. They told me I had to be 16 before they could grant my wish.”
Steed, who had surgery for a brain tumor in December of 2014 followed by extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment, wished for an ATV like his friends had—a Can-Am Maverick XMR. This high-powered off-road vehicle seats two people and can go just about anywhere.
“Make-A-Wish told me I had to go through safety training and get my driver’s license and insurance before they could grant my wish. They directed us to the Extension Service,” Steed says. “I’ve ridden my dad’s Honda four-wheeler on the farm, but I’ve always wanted to have my own. Now, because of Make-A-Wish, I’ll have one both Dad and I can ride in.”
The MSU Extension Service is the only organization that offers free ATV safety training in the state, and trained 4-H Youth Development agents deliver the program. Anna Austin, an Extension agent in Montgomery County newly trained as an ATV safety instructor, said it was a privilege to conduct her first training with Chastain and Steed in the class.
“They’ve worked hard to get to this point in their recovery, and their wishes aren’t just about what they want, but about their families, too,” Austin says. “Like most young men their age, they have experience riding ATVs, but it’s incredibly important for them to learn about safety, how to ride properly, and the gear they must wear. We’re so excited for them to get their new machines, but we want them to be safe.”
Both Steed and Chastain have medical teams that understand their passion for hunting, fishing, and sports. “I push myself,” Chastain says with a grin. “I’m having to shoot right-handed because of the chemo port on my left side. I can’t pull back my bow, so I’ve had to use a cross-bow, but I’m still going to hunt. When I told my doctor I needed to finish up treatment so I could go duck hunting, she laughed.”
Chastain is in the last phase of an experimental treatment. He is most concerned about the impact treatment has had on his joints. The new ATV will help him pursue his interests with less physical impact.
Steed’s mom, Gloria, showers praise on everyone who has helped her son through this major challenge, from the outstanding medical professionals at Batson to everyone who participated in a fundraising benefit to the military veterans who visited him in the hospital.
“Megan at Make-A-Wish is fantastic,” she says. “She told us to call Larry Alexander with the Extension Service, because she knew we could get the ATV safety training Bradley needed for free. It was the last hurdle he had to jump to make his wish come true. I just can’t tell you how much we appreciate Extension for making this possible.”
At the training, she watched her son ride past her with the other students, diligently following the instructions provided by Austin. She cheered him on and snapped photos.
“Bradley has said all along that God’s got us in his hands, that he gives us the strength we need, and I believe that God has made all of this possible for both of these boys,” she concludes. “They have been so sick and been through so much. These boys deserve to have their wishes come true.”
By Keri Collins Lewis