Story by DANNY MOGLE // Photos by SCHUYLER WICK // May/June 2017
“Don’t get shot. Don’t get shot. Don’t get shot!”
I keep saying this to myself hoping it will bring me confidence and courage.
My heart is racing. I’m breathing hard. I don’t have clue what I should be doing.
My strategy is to run to a big bale of hay about 30 yards away, take cover and start shooting like someone in a “Rambo” movie.
As I run, I feel a thud on my thigh. I’ve been hit. But the paint ball did not break and everyone knows that if the paintball doesn’t break you keep playing.
I see my son, Alex, who is on the opposing team, hunkered down behind a pile of sandbags. He is in a shootout with one of my teammates and not paying any attention to me.
I aim. I fire. The paintball splatters into the sandbags.
I try again. This time it passes just over his head.
“Keep shooting!” I tell myself.
Realizing he is under attack from his dad, Alex looks my way and fires. I duck back behind the hay.
Distracted, he is hit by my teammate.
I have survived my first paintball battle unscathed — and had a lot of fun running around, avoiding the enemy and getting caught up in the thrill of battle. And that’s exactly what Brian Mackenzie was hoping would happen.
Mackenzie is the owner of The Forest Adventure paintball park just off Interstate 20 near Winona, Texas.
Mackenzie says he never paid much attention to paintball before he opened The Forest Adventure. “I just wanted to get people outdoors and having fun and along the way they could learn about the history of the land.”
The history he is referring to is Camp Fannin. The paintball park sits on what once was part of the 2,000-acre Camp Fannin Army Infantry Replacement Training Center. From 1943 to 1946 tens of thousands of soldiers were trained for battle at the camp.
“We have tried to preserve the history of this location and the importance it served during World War II,” he writes on his website. “We have themed the paintball field around this and display a little of that history in our store front.”
The tribute includes photos of the camp and information about its important role.
On the trail through woods to get to the playing field, paintballers encounter signs that extol the benefits of being in the fresh air. One reads, “Get lost in nature and you will find yourself.”
That in a nutshell seems to be Mackenzie’s philosophy of life.
Hew grew up in Scotland. By the time he was a young man, he knew Scotland wasn’t the place he wanted to spend the rest of his life.
“It was gray and cloudy and cold,” he says. “I wanted to try somewhere else; to see the world.”
He moved to Canada and landed a job he loved — serving as a hiking guide in Banff National Park near Calgary. The job gave him the chance to really enjoy nature.
“It’s amazing what happens when people get out in nature,” he says. “They start feeling better. I saw it all the time.”
One of the hikers he guided was Bill Crowe, who was then president of Tyler Junior College. Crowe offered him a full scholarship to attend TJC. Mackenzie took him up on the offer.
Mackenzie completed a degree at The University of Texas at Tyler and now serves as an information technology specialist at the university. He missed helping people connect with nature.
“I looked around and realized there were not enough options for people to get outside and do things,” he says.
He liked the idea of starting a paintball park where people could have fun and play. He cleared off three acres from the wooded property he owned and created a playing field with obstacles.
“They (guests) come out here and walk along the trail and immediately start to relax,” Mackenzie says. “They put their cell phones away and start talking to one another. They don’t even realize how much in the present they are.”
TIME WITH FRIENDS
It is a Saturday afternoon at The Outdoor Adventure and Jessica Willard has brought along about a dozen friends to celebrate her 28th birthday.
The group divides into two teams and take their positions on opposite sides of the paintball field. At the signal to go, players begin running and shooting.
One of the last to get hit is Corey Hickerson. “I got caught in the knee,” he says showing the blob of paint marking the kill hit. “I felt it for sure but it wasn’t bad.”
Willard is proudly showing her battle scars. “I got shot in the tail,” she loudly tells her friends.
Everyone is laughing and sharing “war stories.”
“This is something all of us could do (to celebrate my birthday) together,” Willard says in between rounds of battle.
After the players talk strategy and a little smack, the battle begins again.