When Chip Madren was in seventh grade, doctors told his family the type of brain cancer he had gave him about two more years to live.
It was his love of hunting that caused him to fight for his life, his mother said, after being promised a trip to Montana when he got better.
“He was not fighting well up until that time,” Lea Madren said. “That day something clicked. He had this idea that he was going to get back to the woods.”
It took more than five years of surgeries and treatments before he could make that trip. He is now 20 and cancer-free, but he continues to have long-term effects from the disease. He uses a wheelchair and has to eat through feeding tube to ensure he gets all the nutrients he needs.
But Madren earlier this year began working for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as a field agent, lending a hand at shooting ranges and helping the agency make hunting more accessible to those who are sick or have mobility issues.
Madren, a Dunwoody resident, said when he goes hunting, he is the only one he sees in a wheelchair.
“I feel like a lot of people are missing out … and they just need somebody to help,” he said. “And that’s what they hired me to do to try and figure that out.”
Lea Madren said her son has been fishing since before he could walk and accompanied his father on hunting trips since he was about 5 years old.
“I just love it so much, and it got me through my battle with cancer by getting me something to look forward to and not focus on the tough part of everything,” Chip Madren said.
In 2010, Madren was diagnosed with anaplastic metastatic medulloblastoma, or “really bad brain cancer” as he calls it. And it had spread to his spine.
For 10 months, he barely moved. He couldn’t talk or swallow.
“All he could do is blink,” Lea Madren said.
But once an offer came from television hunting show host David Blanton to take a trip to Montana, Chip Madren knew he wanted to get back into the wilderness.
It took more than five years for him to be healthy enough to travel for a hunt, but since then he’s been on about 10 hunting trips, Lea Madren said. On his first one after being diagnosed with cancer, he said he bagged a 1,000-pound elk in Oregon.
“That’s hanging over my fireplace,” Lea Madren said. “It really is beautiful.”
He not only loves hunting, he loves to let young people with serious illnesses or those who have disabilities know they can do it as well. That’s what he did for his friend from elementary school.
Annie Horner said Madren spoke so highly about how his hunting trips helped with his recovery that she decided to accompany him to South Carolina last year for her first hunting experience. Horner, an Atlanta resident, was undergoing cancer treatment at the time. She had her last treatment in the spring and is cancer-free.
“I got a buck that first night,” she said of her New Year’s Eve hunting trip to South Carolina. “It was a very unforgettable, magical New Year’s Eve. What a great experience to live life and have an adventure.”
Madren’s family created a foundation called Chip’s Nation that raises money for families of those with pediatric cancer and exposes other children to hunting.
His work with that foundation scored him a trip to visit DNR Commissioner Mark Williams in March.
After that meeting, Williams asked him whether there was any way he could help the family.
“He said, ‘Yeah there is something you can do — I want a job,’ ” Lea Madren recalled. “Just that simple and matter of fact.”
Chip Madren recently began visiting hunting facilities in other states to see how they accommodate people with disabilities who want to hunt and apply those accommodations in Georgia. For example, Madren said, he noticed state-owned hydraulic lift stands in Iowa that people in wheelchairs can use when hunting.
He said he knows there are others who want to hunt but don’t know whether they would be accommodated.
“All the hunting that I do and how much I love it, I don’t see a lot of other handicapped people in the woods hunting and doing what I love to do,” he said. “I know they’d be out there if (it was accessible).”