Jim Kuzak felt like a kid again.
Kuzak, a former Clairton police officer who is paralyzed, shot a 9-point white-tailed deer on Friday at Spring Valley Whitetail Haven in Unity with a crossbow.
The anticipation, nerves and thrill when the deer presented itself were familiar, if not ramped even higher given that this was the biggest buck he had taken.
“To feel that excitement and my blood racing, it couldn’t have worked out any better,” Kuzak said.
But this hunt was unlike any other for the Rostraver man.
Kuzak was left paralyzed when he was shot five times while responding to a home invasion on April 4, 2011.
He had been a passionate hunter. Friday was the first time he had been in the woods since being wounded.
“That first year (after the shooting) is just about learning to live again,” Kuzak said. “There’s no jumping out of bed, hitting the shower and being gone in 25 minutes. Now it’s two hours to get up, get stretched, get showered and get ready to do what you need to do.
“I haven’t been able to do any of the hobbies I used to. So I guess you could say this was my first opportunity getting back to what I did before, to some normalcy.”
A couple of family friends, Mike Vucish of Greensburg and Tracy Hudak of Monongahela, set up the hunt as a surprise.
“Guys like me, we take it for granted that we can come home, put on our camo and climb into a tree stand,” Vucish said. “I thought it would be pretty cool for Jim to be able to experience something like that again.”
Vucish and Kuzak’s father, Jim Sr., sat in on the hunt, with Vucish filming it. They shared his excitement.
“That’s the biggest deer I’ve ever seen hunting,” the elder Kuzak said.
Challenges remain for his son. Intense physical therapy to address things like the painful muscle spasms in his legs that even Friday shook his body and forced him to wait to take a shot may forever be part of his routine. Kuzak also has had to deal with friends walking away, just as doctors warned him they would.
But he remains upbeat.
“To be able to sit out there and forget about this,” he said, pointing to his wheelchair, “it was a great day. I can’t even put into words what the support of my family and friends has done for me. You have to value the friends in your life, and believe me, I do.”
It’s Kuzak who needs to be valued and remembered, Vucish said.
“When society needed his help, he showed up, and he paid a price for it,” Vucish said. “I’m trying to keep it fresh in people’s minds that he still needs our help.”