Tim Farmer had an exciting future planned. The 20-year-old was having a rockin’ good time in Marine Corps basic training camp back in 1984. He looked forward to making the Marines a career, though he also played with the idea of being a professional musician. Things looked bright for Tim. He had lots of energy and was ready to be a grand success. And whatever his future would look like, he especially knew that it would include his love of the outdoors, with plenty of fishing and hunting. He had been doing that all his young life, and it was very important to him.
But while returning to the Marine boot camp after a visit to his parents in eastern Kentucky, Tim was involved in a motorcycle accident. It nearly took his life. He spent about a year in hospitals in West Virginia, Maryland and Walter Reed Military Hospital in Washington, D.C. Though he survived the motorcycle crash, he now had to deal with a huge, new challenge. He lost the use of his right arm.
It took Tima while before he understood fully how his life would change. On an occasion while taking a cafeteria meal in Walter Reed Hospital, Tim tried to carry his well-stocked tray with only his“good” left arm. The items on the tray fell with a loud noise, causing a moment of embarrassment as on-lookers stared at him and became silent. Tim was shook up badly, but it helped him realize something very important. “I knew then that everything was going to be different in my life, that I was going to have to understand that and make the best of it,” explained Tim. “I was a one-armed guy.”
As soon as he was released from the hospital and honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, he went back to Grayson, his home. Tim had missed his outdoors time with hunting and fishing while he was receiving treatment. Determined, the young man with a severe disability began to try different ways to do his favorite hobby. His positive mental outlook would not allow him to give up. “The brain is set up to have you use both hands in most of your activities,” explained Tim,“so you have to train it to allow you to do things with just one hand. There is usually a way. You just have to figure out what it is.”
So with time and lots of practice,Tim learned to cast his fly fishing line out and then use his mouth to draw the line back, or use a spin-casting reel by cranking the handle with his mouth. A belt around his waist held a tube in front that could hold his rod securely, freeing his left hand for use. He also figured out how to rest a rifle on his left shoulder, aim and shoot targets or game accurately. His dream of getting back into the fun of the woods and water by making a few personal adaptations, or changes, was now being realized!
As Tim began to feel comfortable using his new, adaptive skills, he also needed a job. He briefly attended college part-time, and he took several temporary jobs after he was married. He wanted a career, however, that he could love. After a few short years, he found just what he wanted. And it was like getting paid to do his favorite hobby.
Tim moved his wife and two young girls to Frankfort in 1989 to work for the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department as a fisheries technician. “I was in ‘high cotton.’ I had a uniform and a name tag and everything,” said Tim, in remembering the huge step he took in employment while overcoming his disability. Tim was happy to be paid for doing what was like a hobby for him, and his technician job continued for several years. But then another break came his way. For Tim Farmer, the “high cotton” grew even taller.
That break happened in 1994 when the popular television program, Kentucky Afield, was looking for a new host. They soon found the ideal person…a young fisheries technician inside the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife by the name of Tim Farmer. Besides being dynamic and enthusiastic, the new host presented an amazing example of a person who stared down a serious disability and showed what is possible with hard determination. Tim quickly became popular across the state in his new position. Along with good people working alongside him, the program has won two Emmy awards in recent years.
Tim remembers the important lessons he learned as a young boy while hunting game in Kentucky’s woods and fishing its waters. He wants to share what he learned with young people today as he gets the opportunity. He often includes kids in episodes of Kentucky Afield, and he makes a point to meet and encourage them as they participate in department events.
Some of Tim’s most memorable times have come while sharing with children with disabilities. He shows them how he uses his special adaptations to live an active life. His message to those watching him is useful and quite simple: “It shouldn’t be a big issue,” says Tim. “Rather than handicap or disability, I prefer to call it an aggravation.”
The way Tim Farmer handles his “aggravations” every day gives others a good example to follow. He enjoys his life, but it is not always easy. He is never free from some pain in his shoulder area of his injured arm, and his “good” arm often aches because he uses it so much. Still he smiles and seldom complains. Others are lifted inspirit. They, in turn, are good examples to others. You get the picture.
Tim has always believed “things happen for a reason.” By being an inspiration to others through overcoming a serious physical challenge he acquired when he was 20, Tim has found his reason. And truly, the rest of us are better off for it.
Steve Flairty is a life-long Kentuckian, a teacher, public speaker and an author of three books, a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and two “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes,” collections of stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. He will publish a version of “Everyday Heroes” for kids this summer. This piece is an excerpt from that book. Steve is a correspondent for Kentucky Monthly. His column for KyForward appears weekly. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.