In Search Of…The Sunny Side Of Life

Meet an area girl determined to overcome any obstacle

If confidence and determination could somehow be measured, 15-year-old Sunny Rufsholm’s would be off the charts! However confidence and determination have never been the problem. 

“Prior to her birth we had no knowledge that there was anything wrong,” says Sunny’s mom Lisa Rufsholm. “When she was born our world was changed forever.” Her dad Jim adds, “I saw her and I went, ooh, something is wrong.”

A few days after her birth Sunny was diagnosed with VADERS syndrome, a condition that can come with a long list of birth defects. “Thankfully she has a mild form with it. Her primary issues were with her spine and her left arm and wrist.”

In the first few years of her life, Sunny went through several surgeries to straighten her back and increase her motor skills. “They said she would have limited extension but we learned early on this girl was going to defy all the odds.”

As the years went by, Sunny met every challenge with that good ole’ Sunny determination. “I couldn’t be prouder. She has really been an inspiration to others. She doesn’t think that. But she has. She never wanted to be treated different. Just basic things, they were tougher for her but she would adapt and figure out a way to do it like the other kids,” says Lisa. Sunny recalls some of those simple challenges, “trying to figure out different ways to do things. Like softball, basketball and tying shoes.”

So when the Black River Falls high school announced they were adding a trap shooting team last year, Sunny, who has grown up hunting and shooting, wanted to learn more. Scott Goetzka is the coach for the team and he remembers the first team meeting well, “Sunny and her dad came to the team meeting and after it was done Sunny wanted to be a part of the team, but she had a disability. So we started the process.”

Sunny’s left arm is significantly shorter than her right and not as versatile as yours or mine. So the process involved figuring out a way for her to accurately and quickly point the gun.  “What Sunny wasn’t able to do was to control the forearm of the shotgun,” says Goetzka.

That’s where NASA, the North American Squirrel Association comes into play.
The organization helps physically challenged and the elderly recreate. When coach Scott called NASA director Steve Earp and told him of Sunny’s situation, “I said to Scott well lets fix her up and get her a gun so she can shoot.”

NASA presented Sunny’s a check for an adaptive gun that would work with the brace she had specially made for her. “Of course I started to cry,” says Lisa. “I was so humbled by these coaches who made it their mission to make this happen for Sunny.”

Her dad recalls the huge difference the equipment made, “when she first started it was hard to watch as a parent because she wasn’t breaking any clays. But then she started shooting well, like 50 percent and this is a tough sport.”

Her coach agrees, “after we got the device made for her, we put her one the range and it was game on after that. All we had to do was give her the tools. She had the drive and ability after that.” 

“I can’t thank NASA enough. As a dad who has been an avid outdoor sportsman to see his daughter gain independence and being able to load and unload her gun safely walking through the woods, It brings so much pride to me for her to be able to do that.”

“They have really improved my love of shooting and hunting and I have a new mentor, Steve Earp. He took my dad on a pheasant hunt and that was an amazing experience.”

It was for Earp as well. “she might be physically challenged but she is up to the the challenge. She’s a special girl.”

“She’s been an inspiration for me. I’ve been shooting my whole life and coaching for several years and what she’s accomplished in the last 6 months just makes it so inspiring. Inspires me and the other coaches on our team.”

So you may not be able to measure confidence and determination, but this girl named Sunny certainly sets the bar!