Updated: 05/16/2013 10:37 PM
Created: 05/16/2013 3:50 PM WDIO.com
By: Laura Kennedy
The Minnesota fishing opener is practically a holiday for many Northlanders. For 24-year-old Zach Knuckey, it's more of a celebration.
"Just getting back in the boat again, you know, it's such a good feeling to get back on the water," Zach said. "There's nothing better than being out on the water and catching a bunch of walleyes."
Six months ago, life threw Zach a curveball. He suffered a rare stroke in his spinal cord which caused his legs to become paralyzed.
"It's been a long six months. It's been tough," Zach said. "A lot of sitting around the house, cooped up in the wintertime. Wheelchairs don't do too well in snow."
But with determination and months of therapy, Zach is regaining some function in his legs. On Saturday, he was able to get back in his fishing boat for the first time.
"Definitely getting out in the boat was a huge goal. Fishing is my life. It's what I do. The best part about being back out in the boat here is it really takes away my handicap," Zach said. "There's nowhere I can't go that anyone else can go, and there's nothing I can't do that anyone else can do."
"It's pretty emotional for me," said Zach's dad, Tom Knuckey. "Zach's whole life is fishing and hunting and the outdoors. To see him back out here doing it again is unbelievable."
Tom is inspired by his son's strength.
"Zach keeps stepping up to the plate and doing what he needs to do to keep doing what he loves to do," Tom said. "We're here to help him, but he's kind of a stubborn old mule like his dad. He wants to do it on his own and he finds a way."
One thing that hasn't changed is Zach's knack for finding walleye. After striking out on the St. Louis River, the guys found another spot where they reeled in nearly a dozen.
"He's adapted really well and he's getting a lot of stuff back that he used to do," Tom said. "There's not much he can't do."
Zach describes his recovery as a marathon and says formerly simple tasks, like climbing into a boat, can be a lengthy process. But he's taking it all in stride, and getting back to his favorite activities might be the best therapy of all.
"It's definitely a change," Zach said. "It's one of those things that I just have to work through. The more I do it the easier it'll be. Everything's a process and you just gotta figure out how to do it. Everything's possible you just have to figure out how."
Zach's family and friends held a benefit a few weeks ago to help raise money for his medical expenses. If you are interested in helping out, you can donate at any Hermantown Federal Credit Union.
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