Former Ms. Wheelchair USA Accepts a Six-Year Appointment with State of Wyoming
Ashlee Lundvall gets just as excited about a girls-only shopping trip with her 10-year-old daughter, Addison, as she does slicing up fresh antelope backstraps she harvested for her family’s dinner.
Lundvall, now 38, sustained a T12 complete spinal-cord injury at age 16 after she fell on a pitchfork while attending an all-female ranch camp in Wyoming. She has since made the state she loves her home and was recently selected to serve a six-year term as a commissioner for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“I’m fortunate this is something that I really care about anyway, so I’ve been keeping up with things that go on,” Lundvall said. “Now that I’m in a seat, it’s a huge responsibility, but I’m enjoying it and want to do a great job for the animals, habitat and people in Wyoming.”
As a young, differently abled person, Lundvall overhauled her career path to become a surgeon and stopped playing high school basketball, softball and volleyball. Her life since has been about outdoor activities, including shooting sports, kayaking and fly fishing with her husband of 14 years, Russ.
“The outdoors became my new competitive arena,” she said. “In the process of that, I found a lot of healing.”
During her reign as 2013 Ms. Wheelchair USA, she learned the value of platforms to promote what she is passionate about, and in 2018, Lundvall was the first person with a visible disability appointed to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition.
“It is not just about us girls in chairs, but getting everyone involved in the outdoors,” she said. “While I’m incredibly proud to be a member of this amazing community of people with a disability, I want to make sure I work for the representation of others, as well.”
All About Balance
Lundvall said giving 100% to her efforts means being prepared, safe and staying creative when it comes to solving everyday problems.
“My favorite word is balance,” she said. “Decision-making is a beautiful balance that lets us celebrate differences, while understanding there are certain things that need to be done.”
Balance also informs Lundvall’s belief that conservation must be at the forefront of a family-based hunting culture in Wyoming.
“It’s important to speak with wildlife biologists doing the science. Then there are the folks partaking of what we’re trying to protect,” said Lundvall. “You can’t take one or the other, so I hope that staying steady about those issues is something I can keep as my goal.”
Balancing being a mom in a wheelchair began when Addison was born in 2010. Her daughter completed her hunter safety class last summer and now helps lead their outings together.
“So many times we don’t let kids take the lead, so I love that we’ve provided her with an education outdoors, then give her the opportunity to apply that training to real-life scenarios,” she said.
Lundvall also mentors young women during Wyoming’s Youth Antelope hunt, which hosts cooking demos, plus cold weather meat processing.
“People start talking about equality and try to make men and women equal, but I push back. We are so not equal in how we are built, and I love that,” she said.
Director of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation Rebekah Smith has seen Lundvall in action as a role model at the hunt.
“Her mentorship provides a positive attitude for all of us who have learned from her,” Smith said. “She works hard to make sure a first-time hunter has support, and her attitude makes the experience fun and memorable. That’s just the affect Ashlee has on people.”
Making Access Count
As she and Russ move onto a 20-acre farm, Lundvall is training two German shepherd puppies, Gibbs and Gunny, to learn what a wheelchair is, too. Lundvall looks forward to getting their animals, including a new horse, in one place.
“I like to have different modes of transportation outdoors,” she said about her stand-up track chair, riding and kayaking. “I am a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. When I am asked to weigh in on a decision, I take a balanced approach to that, but when I’m out recreating, it can get a little extreme.”
That motivation won Lundvall the 2017 SPORTS ‘N SPOKES “Get Out, Enjoy Life” cover photo contest. Lundvall was also the recipient that year of Safari Club International’s Pathfinder Award and enjoyed a family trip to Africa.
Lundvall said she now prefers a life that requires guts, and she likes opportunities to be the only girl.
“My idea of courage has definitely changed over the years,” she said. “Instead of proving to everyone I can do something, I focus on offering people experiences to be out in the field with people that are different. It goes a lot further than assuming that we don’t enjoy the outdoors.”
Smith said Lundvall’s appointment to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is important because it doubles the number of women on the commission and is an exciting opportunity for the state to gain more equity in representation.
Helping people is why Lundvall was first drawn to becoming a surgeon, and that desire didn’t disappear after she was injured.
“It might not have been the process I would have loved,” she said about her injury. “But the result was exactly what I wanted. Wyoming is even more special for me because it’s where I met my husband and I had my daughter, and it is where we have built this awesome life. I definitely wouldn’t go back now.”
Read more about Lundvall’s story in her book, A Redefined Life: Lessons from a Pitchfork, available on https://www.ashleelundvall.com, where resources on outfitters, hunt opportunities and licenses are also available.