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Local Fishing and Hunting

Jaden Leiby Proving He’s Never Out of the Fight

Jaden Leiby isn’t going to allow his severe football injury to interfere with his love of hunting.

“I couldn’t have gotten through it without them,” Jaden Leiby said, referring to his parents, Nicole and Heath Leiby.

And they say that they couldn’t have gotten through it without him. And that is true.

Somehow his grit, positivity, strength, and love of life rub off on you. You can’t be in Jaden Leiby’s presence and not come away feeling that not only should you be braver; you have somehow become braver.

The Moment That Changed Jaden Leiby’s Life

It was as if all the people in the stadium held their breath. North Schuylkill football player Jaden Leiby lay motionless after tackling a Pottsville player during the third quarter of a game on Oct. 25, 2019.

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Playing offense and defense, he had already scored three touchdowns while rushing for more than yards. Leiby is the school’s all-time leading rusher with 2,993 yards and in his senior season he’d scored 18 touchdowns and run for more than 1,000 yards).

But everything changed on that one play on that October night.

Leiby underwent emergency surgery at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest for the fracture of his C-7 vertebra, at the base of the neck. That hospital stay was followed by a lengthy stay at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, Philadelphia.

Classmates, family, friends, and strangers wanted to find a way to help. Thousands of “Prayers for 6” (Jaden’s jersey number) T-shirts were sold. Dozens of fundraising efforts took place.

“I’ll never forget what my co-workers did for me,” Nicole said. She works for North Schuylkill School District. “They donated work hours to me, so that I could be with him at the hospital – they donated so many hours that I was with him for all the months that he was at Magee.”

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People who’d never met Jaden or any family members stepped forward.

Louann Perlman, owner of The Big Catch, a Wayne Township business, donated a new specialized wheelchair that he could use while working out.

Judy Frable, widow of Pottsville doctor Dean Frable, contacted the family and said, “Come look at everything we have; just take whatever you need.”

Dr. Frable had been paralyzed in a fall from a tree stand and passed away in 2013; Judy Frable passed away Jan. 12, 2024.

Jaden also worked as hard as possible while at Magee Rehab. He was both self-motivated and inspired by the amount of support he was getting. He remembers advice he got from Bob McCabe, New Jersey, who was also rehabbing at Magee.

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McCabe told him he knew what to do. “Follow your blockers, he told me,” Jaden said. “What football taught me is commitment and work ethic.”

It Started with a Nerf Gun

By Spring 2020, Jaden was back home in Ashland. He was going to Honecker Lifestyle Fitness Rehab Gym in Bloomsburg, two times a week, and working with two physical therapists, Megan Yesaluskey (also the North Schuylkill athletic trainer) and Joe Halko.

In late Fall 2020, his father asked him what he wanted for Christmas and was at first surprised by the answer.

“He wanted a Nerf gun,” Health said. “He’s right-handed, but has better movement with his left hand, and he wanted to practice with that and teach himself to shoot left-handed.

All his life, Jaden has loved to hunt, and he wasn’t about to give it up.

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Although the C-7 fracture meant he was a quadriplegic, with all four limbs affected, he didn’t accept that definition and resolved to work out, and hunt again.

“I thought, well, I’m gonna do that, no matter what they say,” Jaden said.

“He said that he was going to do whatever it took to be the best hunter he could be,” his mother said.

He practiced with the Nerf gun, got accurate with that and soon shot a groundhog, left-handed, using a .22 rifle.

In Spring 2021, Jaden hunted turkeys with Nate Hosie, of Headhunters TV. Hosie, who is from Montdale, Lackawanna County, had heard about Jaden through media reports, and had visited him in the hospital.

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“He told us that he had prayed for Jaden from a mountaintop in Pennsylvania,” Nicole said of the visit. “And he said he was going to take him turkey hunting in the Spring.”

The plan almost “backfired.” They practiced various setups, with Jaden shooting a 12-gauge shotgun while Heath braced him from the recoil from behind. Their first trial run knocked Heath backwards into a thorn bush. They worked out that snag and with Hosie calling, Jaden bagged a turkey.

That same year, Jaden and Health attended an Adaptive Hunting Seminar held at Cabela’s, outside Hamburg. While there, they met a woman connected with the organization called Hunt of a Lifetime. She enjoyed talking with them and set up a contact with New Mexico ranch owner Mark Reeb, who invited them to hunt there.

About two years after his injury, during the week of Thanksgiving 2021, Jaden and his dad were in New Mexico for a rifle elk hunt.

Things didn’t work out – they were in a blind and elk came in from behind them, but they couldn’t get into position for a shot. No worries, Reeb said, come back next year in the fall, during the elk rut.

“We went back September 2022, and it was great to hear elk bugle,” Jaden said. Using a crossbow, Jaden downed a whopping 7 by 8 bull elk with a rack that scored 358 1/8. The shot was perfect, with the elk only running about 70 yards. They caught the moments on video.

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A hunter named Steve Letcher, Arizona, was also at the Reeb ranch hunting elk. Letcher later won an Alberta, Canada, wolf hunt in an auction. He contacted Jaden and offered him the hunt.

Heath and Jaden traveled to Wingmaster Outfitting in Alberta, owned by Kyler Knelson.

“We hunted dark to dark, and it was 20 below some days,” Jaden said. “We had decided to use a camp gun instead of traveling with a firearm, and the camp gun had a triple trigger that I was unfamiliar with. I had a chance at a black wolf but had too much trouble with the gun. It haunts me.”

It wasn’t for lack of trying. In an effort to get Jaden and Heath in an elevated position, Knelson had used a skid loader to build a ramp to a platform.

Disappointed that he hadn’t been able to get them connected with a wolf, Knelson invited them to come back for a Spring bear hunt.

During the Pennsylvania archery season in 2022, using his crossbow, Jaden dropped a buck at about 50 yards. The buck was traveling with a bunch of does and confident with the distance, he made the shot.

“It literally just dropped,” Heath said. “I asked him, where is it, and he said, it’s right there – it had barely taken a step.”

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“I think with us hunting together in Pennsylvania, that’s when it really hit me – me and Jaden are hunting together again,” Heath said. “I didn’t know I was going to have my hunting buddy again, and I was so grateful and happy.”

In Spring 2023 it was time to go back to Wingmaster Outfitting in Alberta. Knelson took Heath and Jaden to a spot overlooking a baited area and plopped a hunting blind over them.

“There we were, Jaden with his crossbow, but us with no gun and no cell service,” Heath said. “A bear came too close to the blind, so I stepped out and stood up to scare it, but then the bear stood up.”

Jaden was unfazed. On the first day of their hunt, during the first hour, he arrowed a beautiful bear with a cinnamon-colored coat. Just that quickly, it seemed their Alberta hunting trip was over, but it wasn’t. At Wingmaster Outfitting, there’s an additional charge for hunters to bag a second bear. When they returned to camp with Jaden’s bear, they learned that one of the hunters in camp – Jeff from Utah, who had shot two bears – had paid the fee for Jaden to get a second bear.

During the hunt for the second bear, Jaden had a rifle along, just in case. Jaden’s second bear, also taken with his crossbow, was a whopper, a black bear with a dark muzzle.

“We (he and Heath) were bickering back and forth, whether it was the same big bear from trail cameras or not. I was saying that’s the one and he was saying, that’s not the one,” Jaden said. “I shot it, and it was the one.”

During the Fall 2023 deer season, hunting the Pennsylvania rifle season on a property near Ringtown, Jaden shot two does – one shooting right-handed and one shooting left-handed. He used a .243 Winchester rifle that his grandfather George Leiby gave him in November 2020.

George, a Vietnam Veteran and former Mayor of Ringtown, passed away in March 2021. As his grandfather did, Jaden shoots a 243 Ackley cartridge. The Ackley is a modified version of the standard 243 Winchester cartridge, with a sharper shoulder angle which increases the powder capacity and velocity of the bullet. The 243 Ackley was created by P.O. Ackley, a famous gunsmith and cartridge designer.

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Jaden Leiby’s Life Outside of Hunting

A typical week for Jaden is attending Bloomsburg University, in person Mondays and Wednesdays, and remotely other days, where he is majoring in early childhood education.

He goes to Honecker Lifestyle Fitness Rehab Gym, Bloomsburg, two times a week. He also works out on his own and with physical therapists, Megan Yesaluskey and Joe Halko.

Jaden’s engaged to his girlfriend of seven years, Haylee Dyszel. He’s driving a specially equipped GMC Sierra truck and training his Bernadoodle service dog, Ackley.

A message, written on the wall facing an entry door at his home, greets him each time he enters the house. It reads, Never Out of the Fight. The saying is from the writings of Marcus Luttrell, a retired United States Navy SEAL who received the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his actions in June 2005.

Luttrell was the lone survivor when a four-man Special Reconnaissance group was ambushed by Taliban fighters during Operation Red Wings. Three of the four team members were killed, and Luttrell, the only survivor, was left unconscious with a number of fractures, a broken back, and numerous shrapnel wounds.

A movie based on this story called Lone Survivor was released in 2013. Jaden has long admired Luttrell, and the phrase “Never Out of the Fight” is tattooed on one of his arms. They’ve never met, but the two men have a lot in common.

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The phrase is from these sentences by Luttrell: “There’s a storm inside of us, a burning river, a drive. You push yourself further than anyone could think possible. You are never out of the fight.”

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  1. Coalregion12

    February 23, 2024 at 9:39 pm

    Outstanding Jaden! This article should be read by those who think their lives are hard.
    You truly are an inspiration Jaden

  2. Kathy Kraft

    February 23, 2024 at 10:12 pm

    Jaden is one of the most courageous people I have ever known. He is a great role model for any age. Pure determination and a love of life!

  3. Jamie Cavanaugh

    February 24, 2024 at 9:20 am

    Great to hear Jayden is able to do the things he loves to do. A true inspiration.

  4. Christine Harris Sutton

    February 24, 2024 at 2:31 pm

    Inspiring, amazing young man . “Keep up the fight “ Jaden, we are all routing, praying for you 🙂

  5. insider

    February 25, 2024 at 8:39 am

    Inspirational. Wonderful young man.Thanks for sharing his story.

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