Paraplegia doesn’t dampen Concord man in spirit or in sport
Mark Race of Concord fires a Ruger SR-556 semi-automatic rifle at a target 100 yards away as Mike Sylvester, a manufacturing engineer from Sturm, Ruger & Co., gives guidance during an adaptive shooting clinic at Monadnock Rod & Gun Club in Peterborough on August 21, 2014. Race is paralyzed from the chest down as a result of a car accident, and the clinic is a partnership between Crotched Mountain Accessible Recreation and Sports (CMARS) and Ruger.
(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)
Mark Race looks at a collection of Ruger firearms and equipment provided by the firearms company during an adaptive shooting event at Monadnock Rod & Gun club in Peterborough on August 21, 2014.
(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)
Mark Race reloads a Ruger Super Redhawk revolver with .44 caliber bullets during an adaptive shooting clinic at Monadnock Rod & Gun club in Peterborough on August 21, 2014.
(WILL PARSON/Monitor staff)
The shot rang out over the range at the Monadnock Rod and Gun Club, and Mark Race flashed a small but satisfied smile.
“I found my sweet spot,” he said.
As the smoke settled, Race patted himself on the back.
That gesture is one of the few in his range of motion. The 58-year-old Concord man has been paralyzed below the middle of his chest since 1980, when he sustained a serious spinal cord injury in a car accident. On Thursday evening, he was one of the three wheelchair users in a shooting clinic hosted by the Crotched Mountain Accessible Recreation and Sports program.
Race’s real target, however, is not the one 100 yards from the end of his rifle. With his quiet but mischievous sense of humor, he is trying to counsel others with injuries like his own through challenges he knows all too well.
“It’s hard to accept a broken back,” he said.
Race works for Granite State Independent Living, where he oversees a peer support program and supervises the New Hampshire Chapter of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association. Before he arrived at the clinic, Race had been listening to another man vent his frustrations about his own injury.
“I’m right there at their eye level, and they can’t say, ‘You don’t know what I mean,’ ” Race said.
He talked about his work as he loaded another round into the Ruger SR-556 rifle on the table next to his wheelchair.
“Helping guys avoid the pitfalls that I fell into, and get them engaged in stuff like this,” Race said.
Those pitfalls include “anything from not taking care of yourself, to living the same style you used to live – drugs, sex and rock ’n roll,” Race said.
“Cooped up with the mindset that if I can’t do it the way I used to do it, then I’m not going to do it – I’ve seen that too much,” he added.
The Crotched Mountain Accessible Recreation and Sports program is also trying to shoot down that mindset. Michael Redmond, COO of Crotched Mountain, said the charitable organization wanted to help injured or disabled individuals engage in hobbies new and old.
“People are going to return to their communities,” Redmond said. “They’re going to live their lives.”
So Crotched Mountain offers accessible recreation programs that include skiing, kayaking, cycling and hiking.
“If you did it before, now you can do it with some additional supports,” Redmond said.
Last year, Crotched Mountain partnered with firearms manufacturer Sturm, Ruger & Co. to add shooting to that list. This week’s workshop was the fifth shooting clinic since then.
“We’re in New Hampshire,” Redmond said. “People like shooting.”
Race certainly does. He got his first gun – a .33-caliber Winchester Model 94 – for his 14th birthday. He prefers target shooting to hunting, and he wheeled directly to the long rifle with the farthest target during Thursday’s clinic. He said he likes the challenge for his mind, his hand-eye coordination.
“It’s a competition against myself,” Race said.
Race is soft spoken, a quiet joker. He teases the other participants as he lets them take a turn on the rifle, saying that they won’t mess up his target sheet.
“How many you got on that zero now?” asked Mark Sylvester, an instructor and manufacturing engineer from Ruger. Sylvester was coaching Race and the other participants during the clinic.
“At least four,” Race said, again with his small smile.
Sylvester leads weapons training for Ruger across the country. This clinic, he said, offers an alternative for shooters who are restricted by a disability. He looked over at Race, who had moved on to shooting a .44-caliber pistol.
“They don’t let a wheelchair limit them,” Sylvester said.
Race works full-time for Granite State Independent Living. He has been married to his wife for 21 years, and he has six grandchildren. He flipped through photos of himself on his iPad – one of him on adapted waterskis this summer, the other on downhill skis at Loon Mountain over the winter. He remembered going skydiving with his wife. He promotes programs like those at Crotched Mountain or Wheelchair Health in Motion on the Seacoast.
In the same way his accident allows him to relate to others with spinal cord injuries, Race’s lifestyle allows him to be an example for them too.
“We all don’t sit here and watch TV all day long,” Race said.
The Rugers staff called off shooting for a moment to collect target sheets. Race waited patiently for them to finish and call the signal – the range is live again, someone shouted.
He smiled that small smile. The shot rang out. The smoke settled.
“I got it,” Race said.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)