The Long Shutter Project

A personal campaign sponsored by Justin Key

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Had we had cell service we could've planned our fishing around the storm system that began tormenting Lake Abamasagi. We were miles from civilization and our cell phones were better off as skipping stones. Nate and I were on the far side of the lake when the wind started to pick up. The water, that had been glass that morning, was now a scene out of The Perfect Storm.


Nate was the captain of our 16-foot aluminum raft for the week and he decided we should wait the storm out in the cabin rather than bounce around in the wind and rain. My knuckles were white, clenching the sides of the boat as we plodded toward our shelter. Each wave would pick the front of the boat up and slam it down sending an ice cold shower into my face. Nate and I were as capable of swimming as our tackle boxes and each time the nose of the boat dipped down I prayed the black water didn’t grab hold of it.


The cabin didn’t appear to be getting closer when another wave picked up the boat. This one didn’t slam us back into the water, it threw the boat into the air and when we crashed back into the water the crack that echoed from under the boat sank my heart into my stomach. As another spray stung my face I wheeled around expecting to see the boat snapped in half. What I saw was my fearless boat captain laughing his ass off.


Sitting in the back with the motor weighing down the boat, Nate’s ride had been far smoother than the mechanical bull I was riding up front. Apparently watching me get thrown around and drenched was funny. If Nate was able to laugh in this situation, I knew we would be all right. That spray suddenly wasn’t so cold, and every time the boat echoed from a good crack with the water we howled in excitement. We pulled up to the dock singing, “Wanted Dead or Alive” like we were filming an episode of The Deadliest Catch.


That was Nate in a nutshell. Nothing seemed to bring him down even though the deck had been stacked against him. Nate developed muscular dystrophy at a young age and spent the majority of his life riding through rough waters. Rather than worry about drowning though he marched through with a smile.


Although he was young, Nate lived life like he’d done it before. He treated everyone with respect, was quick to forgive, and as patient as they come. He saw the best in everyone, could take a joke as easily as he could dish one out, and wore his emotions on his sleeve. Nate didn’t worry about what others thought of him, he was authentic, and became friends with everyone he met.


I was lucky enough to call Nate a friend. My first memories of him are ripe with jealousy. He was the new kid at school and within a week had more friends than me. Once our paths crossed it didn’t take long to understand why people were drawn to him. His personality was infectious and he always had a way of brightening your day.


Nate and I made a lot of memories together. The two of us fell in love with fishing and spent most of our free time by the water talking nonsense. We use to drive around with the windows down, singing along to whatever the radio would play. We both loved country music and together we would travel all over Wisconsin to watch our favorite artists. Without him though, all of those things that I loved to do feel empty now.


In 2016, Nate developed heart complications and wound up on a transplant list. Shortly after being placed on the list, Nate passed away in his sleep.


I’m able to chase my dreams because of Nate. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t cross my mind and remind me what’s at stake. Especially on those days when I fall into a hole of doubt and start questioning everything I’ve been working towards, Nate’s memory pulls me out. Life is far too short to not go all in on a pursuit of happiness. Nate is the reason I’m fighting for this and he is the reason The Long Shutter Project was founded.


The night Nate passed, he climbed into bed with plans to go fishing the next morning. Even though he was sick, he couldn’t turn down another day on the water doing what he loved. That night he closed his eyes and dreamed about fishing and I have a feeling he hooked a big one.

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