Photo by Danny Meyer
Growing up in Tuscola, a small town just south of Abilene, Reicheneker had a bright future ahead of him. He was a multi-sport athlete at Jim Ned High School and enjoyed hunting, fishing and riding all-terrain vehicles in and around his rural community. He was also preparing for college, favoring either ASU or Tarleton State. But his life was forever changed at age 16 when he rolled his four-wheeler.
“I had a brake failure and got flipped into a ditch,” Reicheneker said. “I woke up and thought everything was fine, but everything wasn’t fine. So I called my mom and said, ‘I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think I broke my back.’ My family and the EMTs came out, and everyone was in a depressed mood, but I was trying to keep the mood light, cracking jokes and stuff.”
“Turns out, I burst-fractured my T-12 vertebra into about 12-15 pieces,” he added. “My spinal cord was twisted and punctured in several places. So I had a complete spinal cord injury.”
Confined to a wheelchair after the accident, it seemed that Reicheneker’s once-bright future had considerably dimmed. Instead, he picked up right where he had left off, continuing with many of his outdoor pursuits, graduating high school and choosing ASU, where he is majoring in natural resource management through the Agriculture Department.
“I’m a very positive person,” Reicheneker said. “Why be angry and depressed with the world when that doesn’t make you or anyone else around you feel better about anything? It just makes everything worse, so why do that, you know?”
“Everything happens for a reason,” he continued. “You just have to deal with the cards you’re dealt the best you can.”
Now, Reicheneker can regularly be seen wheeling himself around ASU’s Management, Instruction and Research Center (ASU Ranch), fully participating in all the class, lab and research activities alongside his fellow students.
“This year I’m helping with the guided deer hunts,” Reicheneker said. “We are also working on a research project to determine how many quail and turkey are on the ASU Ranch. I’ve done deer counts, helping with the spotlight surveys, and I helped with another research project counting reptiles and amphibians out there. I also worked on a controlled burn at the ranch for one of my classes.”
“I love the Ag Department and I get along great with all the professors,” he added. “They quickly realized that I’m very independent and don’t need much help. They really didn’t need to change anything for me to take part in their classes.”
“Eventually, I’d like to own my own game ranch. That’s the basis of my whole degree plan. I want to turn my hobby into my profession so I don’t have to go to ‘work’ every day.”
While he has a special motorized wheelchair with tank tracks instead of wheels for off-road terrain, Reicheneker favors his regular non-motorized chair for everyday activities. His regular chair does have BMX-style tires, but it is basically his tremendous upper-body strength that propels him around all areas of the ASU Ranch.
“My big chair weighs 350 pounds, and I don’t really have a place to keep it,” Reicheneker said. “I’d have to keep it on the rack in the bed of my truck, and that is cumbersome. I just use my regular chair at the ranch. It’s a good workout, that’s for sure.”
He also gets around pretty well in his 2006 Nissan Titan pickup.
“It has hand controls,” Reicheneker said. “It’s just a little bar that has buttons to press for the brake and the gas. But that is the only modification I have. It’s got a 9-inch lift kit on it and 37-inch tires, but I don’t have a lift for myself or any other modifications at all.”
In addition to his classes and ranch activities, Reicheneker is a member of the ASU Undergraduate Range Management Team, and he posted the top individual score at the Texas Section Society for Range Management’s Undergraduate Range Management Examination competition in October in Wichita Falls. He is also the safety compliance officer for the newly-formed Rams Clay Target Team. When he has a free weekend, he heads home to go hunting or fishing and to visit his dog, a wolf/malamute mix named Kiara.
Scheduled to graduate in December 2016, Reicheneker has definite plans for his future that is looking as bright as ever.
“I want to get a job on a game ranch, breeding white-tailed deer and guiding hunts,” he said. “Eventually, I’d like to own my own game ranch. That’s the basis of my whole degree plan. I want to turn my hobby into my profession so I don’t have to go to ‘work’ every day.”