EAGLE COUNTY – It took a year, but Tred Barta finally got his bear. More important, he can put on his socks.
Barta, 58, was scheduled to leave for Alaska last spring to tape another episode of “The Best and Worst of Tred Barta,” his popular hunting/fishing/adventure show on the Versus cable channel, when he started losing the power in one leg. Hours later he was in a Denver hospital.
After months of tests, he finally learned about two rare conditions that nearly killed him: a “spinal stroke,” and Waldenstrom’s disease, a form of blood cancer.
Usually upbeat, brash, and utterly unconcerned with what just about anyone thinks of him, Barta acknowledges he hit a point last summer when he wanted to end it all. Even in his darkest moments, though, Barta wanted to get back – back to hunting, fishing and riding horses, back to his TV show, and back to something like the life he’d enjoyed before he landed in a wheelchair.
Now, a little more than a year later, Barta has already finished one new season of his show for Versus, with adventures including cold-weather trout fishing near Steamboat Springs, landing a sailfish (on two-pound test line, no less) off the coast of Guatemala and wild turkey hunting in Michigan. Along the way he’s also geared up to play goalie at a Notre Dame club hockey practice.
The shooting schedule also included a trip to Oregon, where, using his “Renegade” off-road wheelchair, Barta finally bagged a 300-pound bear with his longbow.
With one post-stroke season filmed, Versus has signed Barta for another season of the show, his eighth, something that has the host very, very pleased.
Anni Barta, Tred’s wife, said signing her husband for another season is a credit to the channel’s executives.
“It says a lot about Versus that they’d stick with a paraplegic for an outdoor show,” she said. “I don’t think another channel would have done that.”
Traveling for the show has been an eye-opener for Daniel Montoya, the newest member of Team Barta.
The Bartas hired Montoya last summer to help Tred and help out around the ranch. In the process, he’s gone on most of the TV trips. It’s been a lot of work – and he quit for about 20 minutes not long ago – but a great opportunity.
“I’m learning to ride (horses) now,” Montoya said. “And I think I’m more in shape than I was when I started.”
Beyond that, Montoya has traveled more in the last year than he ever has.
When the team isn’t traveling, Barta works to keep his private-jet business going, and tries to figure out what his life is going to be like in the future.
He spends time every day working out, shooting his bow, and working on things he can do from his wheelchair. He also spends a lot of time learning how to take care of himself. He’s proud of the fact he was finally able to get his own socks on not long ago.
It’s hit Anni hard, too. She’s still Tred’s travel partner, but she’s also his caretaker now, too, and it’s hard work.
“It’s a learning process, and you learn as you go,” she said. “But this is 95 percent attitude and you have to say to yourself you’re going to figure this out.”
While the Bartas are quick to praise the valley and its people, Anni wishes the area had some sort of “respite care” service that could give caregivers a day or evening off from time to time.
“The patient has doctors and therapists, but there’s very little for the caregivers,” Anni said.
Barta acknowledges that he requires a lot of help these days.
“I shot a bear, but with 11 different grownups helping me,” he said.
Off to Panama this week to fish for blue marlin, Barta’s going to use a harness developed by Dennis Baird that looks a little bit like a rig tandem skydivers use.
“I’ll use him as my stomach muscles,” Barta said.
While Barta accepts, and is grateful for, all the help he’s received in the last year, he’s determined to help others, too.
Working with his friends at the Casa Vieja resort in Guatemala, Barta’s going to start the Barta Family Fishing School for disabled people.
“We’ll help the families, too,” Barta said. “We’ll fish, we’ll shoot the bow, pellet guns and .22 (caliber rifles).”
The fishing school will help raise money for a school for Guatemalan children in Casa Vieja. Barta wants to help the Turner family, which owns the lodge, raise $100,000 to build that school.
Outside Guatemala, Barta plans to help the “Healing Waters” program that provides outdoor activities for injured military veterans. And he continues to raise money for Boys and Girls Clubs.
Then there’s the Barta Pacific Masters tournament he plans to host in June of next year.
“We’re going to find out who’s the greatest light-tackle angler in the world for billfish,” he said. “And yes, I’m going to participate.”
That full-throttle approach to life has always been standard procedure for Barta. But he acknowledges that he’s had to slow down a bit, too. There’s a small vegetable garden off the deck of the house he tends now.
“I’m enjoying some of the simpler things,” he said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of getting dressed myself.
“I’m not that wonderful without a lot of help,” he added. “I need a lot of help, but this valley will help those who help themselves.”
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.