The Second Amendment, shooting sports and outdoor lifestyle is treasured by millions of Americans from all walks of life. Freedom Journal provides athletes, entertainers, public figures and more with a platform to connect with others, outside of their immediate fan base, and share their passion, respect, and appreciation for this lifestyle. These are their stories, in their own words, for you to hear. The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the National Rifle Association of America.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Erin Kelly. I am the oldest daughter of Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.
Before you read this, there are a few things you should know about me. I love Jesus. I love my family. I love the Buffalo Bills. And, I love to hunt!
I never pictured myself as a hunter.
That all changed when I was faced with the reality of picturing my life without my dad.
It was December 2014, just a few days before Christmas. That summer and fall I had the privilege of taking care of my dad after he had half of his jaw removed due to oral cancer. When death comes knocking on the door of your house, you can't ignore it. It changes your perspective and priorities. It changes the trajectory of your life – how you live, love, and spend your time. That Christmas I was determined to give my dad something extra special. A gift that wouldn’t collect dust or wear and tear. But rather, something that would last a lifetime.
My dad loves hunting just as much as he loves the game of football. Actually, he probably loves hunting more. He had always dreamed of hunting with my younger brother, Hunter. However, when Hunter was born with a fatal genetic disease called Krabbe Leukodystrophy, my dad knew his dream of hunting with his only son would never be fulfilled. Knowing how much my father loves to hunt and that he would never get the opportunity to hunt with my brother, turned into the perfect Christmas gift for me to give my dad – getting my hunting license.
Little did I know that a few months later, oral cancer would come back and my dad would be fighting for his life - again. Hunting trips would have to wait.
His second battle with cancer had its ups and downs and moments where I came face to face with the fear of losing him. These moments were when I realized how precious every moment, every breath is.
By the grace of God, my dad is now cancer free! The first chance we got to hit the woods, we did. We’ve been on numerous hunting excursions together ever since. My dad was by my side when I shot my first buck and was there calling in turkeys for my first spring turkey hunt. As excited as I am to have these opportunities with my dad, seeing how overjoyed he is with each adventure is worth more than anything.
There's nothing quite like hunting. Every hunter knows that feeling… heart pounding out of your chest, finger shaking over the trigger, and the adrenaline running on over drive through your veins. For some it’s when they hear turkeys gobbling, a ten-point buck walking right in front of your blind, or harvesting your first animal. For me, there’s nothing like hunting with my dad. It’s almost as if there’s no one else in this world but the two of us.
Hunting has taught me one of the most important life lessons that I carry with me every day – be present and treasure every moment. Waking up before the sun comes out and spending hours in the woods with no guarantee that you’ll hear or see anything can be exhausting. However, God has taught me to live in the moment and to cherish the time I have with my dad. As I write this, he’s in New York City getting scans to make sure that he is still cancer free. While I wait to hear the results, I write and pray. I pray that his scans are clean and that I’ll be able to enjoy turkey season with him this year.
Tomorrow is never promised for any of us. I learned the meaning of that throughout this journey with my dad. As a result, I appreciate life more. I am who I am because of him. I am more determined and focused; more courageous and compassionate and I'm a hunter.