Outdoor Empowerment

The women of MedFirst Healthcare Supply in Clermont. (L-R): Kara Whiting, Ann Schlanger, Valerie Johnson, Tara Fueri, Kristen Ellis, Karen Cappellano, Joni Worth. Jackie Tuten, Fruitland Park Mary Ryder, Mascotte Annette Teate, Lady Lake Raina Brown, Leesburg Virginia Marks-Kramm, Lady Lake Kristen Ellis, Clermont (L-R): Frank Bose and Mary Ann DeSantis

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience… You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt

Those words brought new meaning to me and many other women during the 6th Annual Women In The Outdoors event this spring at the Circle C Hunt Club in Groveland. An outreach program by the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Women In The Outdoors (WITO) program teaches women the importance of responsible wildlife management and conservation.

It also gives women hands-on opportunities to experience outdoor activities that are out of their everyday realm — bass fishing, hunting, shooting a bow and arrow or a shotgun, riding an all-terrain vehicle, cooking over a campfire. And these are just a few of the activities offered.

“Women are a growing force in the outdoor industry,” says Jackie Tuten, who is the founder and coordinator of the local WITO program through the NWTF Chain-O-Lakes Gobblers Chapter. “The Women In The Outdoors event is often a life-changing experience for many women who think they cannot do some of these activities.”

When Jackie began the local program in 2001, she aimed for 100 participants — considered an unreasonable goal by the federation’s district director.

“She told me, ‘Don’t be disappointed,’ Jackie says with a laugh, “and 106 women showed up.”

This year’s event had a record 140 women registered, making it the largest Women In The Outdoors event in Florida. Participants registered in advance for four different events among the 14 that were offered. The most popular? Introduction to handguns and shotgunning.

Frank Bose, a former New York City detective, has been a volunteer handgun instructor since the program began. He believes in the program so much that he puts up his own money for a shooting competition in the afternoon.

“Women come off my range with a new sense of empowerment,” says Frank, who teaches safety above all else. “The program is near and dear to my heart because it gives women an opportunity to do things that they’ve been told they cannot do.”

Jackie agrees. While some of the women who participated grew up doing outdoor sports, most of the others have not.

“The most outdoor activity they’ve done was gardening,” she says.

Although the event is geared toward having a good time, it’s about much more. The proceeds help fund a scholarship for a Lake County student who is interested in the outdoors.

“If we don’t teach the next generation to love and appreciate the outdoors, it will not be here,” says Jackie.

Participation in the WITO event yields a different experience for every woman. Here’s a look at some of the women who participated in this year’s Lake County event and their experiences.

Jackie Tuten, Fruitland Park

Jackie Tuten grew up in Jacksonville, where her outdoor activities consisted of going to the beach and occasionally crabbing. Until seven years ago, her sport was bowling. Not today, however. Now she is an avid turkey and deer hunter as well as a regional director for the National Wildlife Turkey Federation, the world’s largest non-profit outdoor conservation organization.

“I used to read a book in the boat while my husband fished,” says Jackie, who now considers deep-sea fishing her favorite outdoor sport.

She met Carol Gordon though bowling, and the two decided to learn more about the outdoor activities their husbands enjoyed so much. They joined the Chain-O-Lakes Gobblers and became involved with the educational activities.

For the last six years Jackie been spreading the word about wildlife conservation and making outdoor recreation available to other women. With an energy level that would put most 20-somethings to shame, Jackie works full time with Beesley Construction in Leesburg and spends her off hours volunteering with the NWTF. She also hunts and fishes with her husband Danny, who assists her with the Women In The Outdoors program.

For her efforts, the NWTF awarded her its 2007 Annie Oakley Award in Nashville earlier this year.

“I’m amazed by the longevity of Jackie’s volunteerism,” says Patty Molinaro, national coordinator. “It’s not something she’s taken up in the last month or two. She’s been helping our program for years.”

Mary Ryder, Mascotte

Not many of the women at the Women In The Outdoors event could match Mary Ryder’s energy and attitude. At 71, she was the oldest participant, but that didn’t stop her from participating in some of the day’s most challenging activities.

“I’m a dangerous old biddy now,” she says with a laugh after completing the Introduction to Handguns event. “I know it must sound bloodthirsty, but I signed up for shotgunning, too.”

The diminutive, but spry Mary emphasizes that she was “not about to go shopping for an AK-47,” but wanted to learn more about gun safety because she plans to take up turkey hunting in the near future.

“I had thought about deer hunting, but my size would probably prevent me from dragging a deer through the woods,” she explains. “I could handle a turkey.”

Later in the day, she was kneeling over a campfire in the outdoor cooking class. As a food columnist for the Daily Commercial and the South Lake Press, she was delighted to find some unusual recipes and unusual ways of cooking them. Participants made homemade box ovens, and Mary says the instructions would be a great addition to her hurricane preparedness columns. The only outdoor cooking that she had done previously was as a Girl Scout, “about a thousand years ago,” she says.

This was the first year that Mary participated in the Women In The Outdoors program, and it certainly won’t be her last.

“I was already making plans to return next year before the day was half over,” she says.

Annette Teate, Lady Lake

While the bass fishing instructor Dennis Brewer talked about the differences between Bitter Bait and Shad Wrap, Annette Teate and her classmates were grabbing the fishing poles, anxious to be the first of the day to catch a bass. It was only a few minutes into the morning’s first session that a participant from Orlando reeled in a 10-pound bass and everyone squealed with delight.

“The camaraderie has been awesome,” Annette says. “Everyone acted like we’ve known each other for years. It’s hard to believe that we’ve all only met this morning.”

After completing sessions in bass fishing, archery, and jewelry and leather making, the first-time attendee said her favorite activity was the bass fishing.

“Archery was fun, but it was a lot of work,” she says. “The bass fishing was a nice way to begin the morning, and we learned so much about the different baits and kinds of poles. I signed up to learn how to fish.”

Annette, who heard about the program from a co-worker, plans to return next year. “Next time I’m bringing my daughter,” she says.

Raina Brown, Leesburg

Although she was one of this year’s youngest participants, Raina Brown is actually a four-year veteran of the Women In The Outdoors program. She is also the recipient of a $500 WITO scholarship given to academically outstanding students who have volunteered with the Chain-O-Lakes Gobblers chapter. She plans to study nursing at Central Florida Community College in the fall.

The recent graduate of Leesburg High School began coming to Women In The Outdoors at age 14 with her mom, who is a friend of co-organizer Carol Gordon. Raina participated in the events but also helped set up and “did any little job that I could do.” She also volunteered with the chapter’s JAKES program, which is geared to fathers with young children.

Raina’s favorite event was learning how to ride the ATVs, but outdoor cooking was a close second.

“I used to think girls couldn’t do these activities unless they were tomboys,” Raina says. “You can still be a girl and actually like these kinds of things.”

An added benefit for Raina has been building a great relationship with her father.

“I go hunting and fishing now with my dad,” she adds, “and he knows that I know how to be safe because of the Women In The Outdoors program.”

Virginia Marks-Kramm, Lady Lake

As a native of Rhode Island, Virginia Marks-Kramm didn’t consider herself an outdoor person. That is until now.

“Now I’m totally addicted to hunting and being outdoors,” says Virginia, who signed up to learn more about the sports that her husband enjoys. “I was really nervous about going to the Women In The Outdoors event, because I was a city person all my life. Being in the woods was a brand new thing for me.”

That changed, however, as soon as she arrived because she said the other women were so friendly and the instructors so patient and knowledgeable.

Virginia, who is a certified medical manager for a Eustis doctor, was at the Bass Pro Shop in Orlando with her husband of two years when she heard about the Women In The Outdoors program. She signed up for sessions that introduced her to turkey hunting, shotgunning, and motorcycle and ATV riding.

“I called my husband after every session to tell him what I could do,” she says. “The ladies had nothing to prove to anyone, so we just had fun. “I wish more women knew how much fun these events are.”

Kristen Ellis, Clermont

Kristen Ellis has lots of company when she participates in Women In The Outdoors events — all of her co-workers from MedFirst in Clermont join in the fun as well.

“Four of us have come every year since the program began in Lake County,” says Kristen. “The event gets us together outside of our work environment where we get to know each other better and have lots of fun.”

This year, MedFirst was represented by seven of the eight women who work at the medical supply company, which pays their registration fees. Kristen said the eighth would have been there, too, but a family member was ill.

“It’s fun to watch all of us have the opportunity to do things we’ve never done before,” adds co-worker Kara Whiting, who has attended the event for four years.

Kristen signed up for events that were “completely different” for her this year, including motorcycle riding.

“This was the first time I rode a bike by myself,” she says. “I am looking into getting a motorcycle of my own now.”

Although she likes to shoot skeet, she’s not into hunting. “I like Bambi too much,” she explains.

She also leaned toward the outdoor photography and cooking classes, although in previous years she took the handgun classes.

“Our husbands get a little envious when we tell them we’ve learned to shoot an AK-47,” she says, laughing. “And they really get jealous when we brag about the great meals that we get during the event.”

Kristen says that every year Lake County’s Women In The Outdoors event gets better and better.

“Thanks to Jackie and her committee, we have had more and more events to choose from with wonderful instructors, and I hear that next year we’ll have even more, including canoeing.”

My Outdoor Adventure
By Mary DeSantis

I was about three the first time I ever went fishing. My dad filmed the experience and he delighted in showing everyone how I cried hysterically at catching a small fish. They weren’t happy tears either. I was so frightened by that little fellow erratically flapping around the boat that I don’t remember ever going fishing again.

The sport of fishing has changed a lot since then. WITO bass fishing instructor Dennis Brewer was somewhat amused when I asked about having to bait a hook with live worms. My mom always said that was the real reason I cried on my first — and only — fishing trip. Imagine my delight to learn about synthetic fishing lures like shad wrap and water strikers.

The Women In The Outdoors program gave me the opportunity to challenge myself and learn new skills that I have never had an opportunity to experience before. I also had so much fun that I had to pinch myself to remember to take notes for this story.

It was also hard to take notes with a fishing pole or a Smith and Wesson 40-06 in my hands. Like most women who attended the event, I was anxious to take the Intro to Handguns session taught by former NYC police detective Frank Bose, who spent a good bit of time explaining the differences in handguns and how to be safe with them. His patience is to be commended, because firing the handgun was as frightening to me as that first fishing trip. Frank worked with me until I could hit the target, and at the end of the session gave me a pink and white toy dove toy with a Merit Award ribbon. He said that I had improved tremendously during the session from hitting trees above the target to actually hitting a crucial part of the target, which was a drawing of a terrorist.

And I didn’t shed a tear!

What’s next?
Statewide WITO event to be held in October in the Ocala National Forest.

If you have always wanted to learn to kayak or shoot a bow and arrow, don’t miss the statewide Women In The Outdoors event, Oct. 19-21, at the Ocala National Forest Youth Education Center.

Women may participate in beginner and advanced classes in a variety of outdoor activities including hunting, canoeing, and outdoor cooking. Classes also will include Introduction to Handguns and Learning to Navigate with a GPS.

The registration fee for the weekend is $100 and includes all meals, class supplies, and bunk house accommodations. If you register before August 15, you will be eligible for a drawing for a private cabin for the weekend. The cabin can accommodate seven of your friends.

For more information, visit womenintheoutdoors.org or call Pattie Boon, Florida State Event Coordinator at (352) 241-6436.

For more information about the Chain-O-Lake Gobblers Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, call Jackie Tuten at (352) 406-2365.

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