It's a leg, 'not a life'
SHADY COVE — The transom of his driftboat folds down like a drawbridge, and with one real leg and one fake one, fishing guide Todd Logan slowly steers double-amputee Jed Morgan's wheelchair into the boat anchored at an upper Rogue River ramp.
Morgan snaps his chair into place and in a few short minutes, Logan plants his prosthetic right leg onto the boat's foot peg, pulls back on the oars, and down the Rogue River they go in search of salmon just like any other angler and fishing guide this day.
It's Morgan's first time in a driftboat. But for Logan, this is the maiden voyage of a wheelchair-accessible, salmon-fishing crusade likely never before seen in the Pacific Northwest.
One amputee helping other amputees to fish, and, at least briefly, to forget.
"I know for the split second when I make a cast, there's a moment when I don't remember I don't have a leg," Logan says. "It's a split second of relief from how much it affects you."
Logan plans to travel the Northwest later this summer offering wheelchair-bound people salmon and steelhead fishing trips on whitewater rivers for free.
With his specially designed Willie Boats boat and partner Greg Goodell riding shotgun, this longtime outdoorsman is hell-bent on giving wounded veterans and other amputees the chance to smell river rapids and feel the tug of a salmon while continuing his own personal march toward independence.
The boat is modified so two wheelchairs can sit side-by-side so their owners can fish and enjoy a river that before might have been only a memory.
"I still have a lot to offer, and this is what I know," Logan says.
"It's all about getting people in the outdoors, where they couldn't or wouldn't because of their disability," Logan says. "And it's with me on the oars. One of them."
"Couldn't" and "wouldn't" have not been regular members of Logan's lexicon, despite a life of pain, triumphs, setbacks and conquests.
He was born with a rare form of congenital bone fusion, turning his feet into "one big block of bone" with no give in them. Though he never gave into them, they took a pounding as he wrestled through his Crater High School days and during regular pursuits in the woods and waters of Oregon and, eventually Idaho.
"I step wrong, my feet break," says Logan, 43. "And every time they fixed me, they put me in a wheelchair."
The left foot broke eight times. The ninth and last break to his right foot is in itself a very vivid snapshot in the collage that is Todd Logan.
Nov. 14, 2014. Logan was on an elk hunt with family and friends near Siletz, and he spotted a spike bull in the forest. Logan gave chase and the right foot gave out. He still lumbered more than 100 yards through the woods, "and I got my elk," he says.
"And in a way, the elk got me," he says.
All those past screws and bone grafts had taken their toll. Doctors at St. Charles in Bend said amputation right below the knee was necessary.
Logan and his new right leg walked out of the hospital Feb. 23, 2015, under his own power. No cane or crutches. Healed, but still not fixed.
"The mental aspect of losing my leg was horrible," Logan says. "At first, I couldn't look in the mirror to see my leg gone."
Still, Logan was intent that chunk of metal inside his tennis shoe would not define him, even after doctors said he likely would need his left leg amputated within two years.
"I wasn't going to let it rob me of everything I knew and loved, so I fought it," he says. "I'd rather have two good years than 20 mediocre ones."
Goodell, a longtime family friend, remains amazed at Logan's drive and vitality despite constant pain for which he takes nothing but ibuprofen.
"The drive in him is exceptional," Goodell says. "Once he got his leg cut off he was bound and determined not to let it slow him down and it hasn't one bit.
"He gets around so well that if he wore long pants, you'd never know he had his leg cut off," says Goodell, 55. "That's how well he gets around."
Logan moved to Shady Cove to be closer to family, and started looking for a job. Logan had been a tools and parts salesman, but he couldn't find work.
Potential employers saw him as an insurance liability. Self-employment became his only out.
He decided to become a fishing guide.
"Why not make my passion my job?" he says.
He navigated through the paperwork to garner Coast Guard credentials so he and Goodell could open an ocean charter-fishing business. They traveled to the Portland boat show in February to buy an ocean boat but the boat they planned to buy wasn't there.
Already invested in the trip, the pair decided to take in the boat show anyway. They walked around a corner in front of the Willie Boats booth and stopped, frozen, in awe.
"As soon as I saw it, it completely changed our focus," Logan says. "It wasn't about making money anymore."
Willie Boats President Jim Bittle was there to show off the Medford manufacturer's newest addition to its storied driftboat fleet: a 17-foot model fashioned so a wheelchair could be loaded over the transom and fastened to the front where one of two front seats normally would be.
It was designed for an Idaho guide who had a regular client bound in a wheelchair. The transom is 39 inches wide at the top and 29 inches wide at the bottom, built with stiff metal and hinged so it can be lowered onto a boat ramp.
It's strong enough for 650 pounds of man and electric wheelchair to motor easily into the boat, past the removable rowing seat and clasp into the front floor boards for stability.
"It completely changed the course of our lives," Logan says.
It started a conversation between Logan and Bittle, then another, then a few meetings. Logan helped with a few design changes so he can row it from his wheelchair when his left leg hurts too badly or his right chafes from the prosthetic.
They hatched the idea of touring the Northwest so Logan can find wheelchair-bound veterans and others and give them a free day on the water.
"It's not about Todd Logan and it's not about Willie Boats," Bittle says. "It's about getting handicapped people on the river."
Willie Boats will supply the boat, and Logan and Goodell will pay the required insurance and drum up donations and business sponsors to fund a three-week tour through Oregon, Washington and Idaho. They're looking for takers of these free trips in each of these states and plan to troll on Facebook if need be to find takers.
"Losing my leg wasn't my end-game," Logan says. "It's just where I am right now."
On the maiden voyage, "right now" is trying to row Morgan into a fish.
The Florida native was a U.S. Marine corporal in Afghanistan on June 20, 2012, when an improvised explosive device blew off most of both legs. His two titanium legs make him something of a $200,000 man, able to walk around on his prosthetics a few hours a day but otherwise bound to a wheelchair.
He moved to Medford about a year ago for business and found his wheelchair fit snugly in the boat.
"It feels really stable in it," says Morgan, 26. "I'd definitely do this again."
Logan anchors the boat in a salmon hole so Morgan and Goodell can let their lures work the deep Rogue waters. He wears shorts, vowing never to disguise his circumstance.
On the top of Logan's prosthetic's socket is a big Willie Boats logo. Together they're a symbol of where he's been and where he's going.
"I put it on there so people will notice," he says. "I consciously draw people's attention to it. I want them to see it.
"It's just a leg," Logan says. "It's not a life."