El Campo man's online magazine highlights disabled hunting

Stephen Herzog

March 17, 2011 at 10:01 p.m.
Updated March 16, 2011 at 10:17 p.m.

Chad Waligura, left, and guide Darby Hoffman talk while on a group teal hunt near Garwood. They host 15-20 disabled hunters every year around Garwood and El Campo.

Chad Waligura, left, and guide Darby Hoffman talk while on a group teal hunt near Garwood. They host 15-20 disabled hunters every year around Garwood and El Campo.

On an otherwise normal summer day 25 years ago, Chad Waligura's life changed.

He was spending the afternoon swimming at a friend's house in El Campo.

"I was diving in off the side, and I just hit the incline from the deep to the shallow," Waligura said. "It surprised me. I hit it just right, but there wasn't even a bruise on my head. But I knew what happened. I heard it break."

Waligura broke his back, then started to drown before the friend and his father pulled him out.

"He gave me mouth-to-mouth and they drove me to the hospital," he said. "I was lucky."

He considers himself fortunate to be alive, even though that accident left him paralyzed from the upper part of his chest down.

It was July, the summer before his senior year, and Waligura spent more than three months in the hospital rehabbing.

He ended up waiting a year to complete his high school career, and in some of that time off, he focused on hunting.

Waligura had always been an avid hunter. At the time of the accident, it's something he immediately considered.

"That was the one thing I knew right after I got hurt," he said. "I can give up a few things, as long as I can keep hunting, everything else will be OK."

At first it was a struggle.

"Nothing worked the first year," he said. "Everything we tried we failed at."

But Waligura said it was important for him to go through those struggles to understand what he needed to do to hunt again. And the next year they started figuring it out.

"The main thing was I needed something to pull the trigger with," he said. "I don't have any grip, so I can't use my trigger finger."

The rehabilitation center gave him a device to help him hold a pen or pencil to write, but it didn't work as well for hunting.

"Your finger needs to be touching the trigger," he said. "It had a metal part that was on the inside of my finger."

With the help of a tongue depressor and some tape, he was able to bend the device around the backside of his finger. It worked for awhile, but wasn't perfect.

"That was the prototype," he said. "Then I went to an orthotics doctor and showed him what I needed. He built me one that was custom fit to my hand with a metal support and Velcro so I could take it on and off easily."

He also had to have a chest strap to help hold a gun.

Because his injury was in his upper-chest, he doesn't have the use of his trunk muscles.

He redesigned the strap three times just to make something that was easy to take on and off and adjust by himself.

"I didn't want something I would have to have somebody else put on me," he said.

All of that hard work ended up helping more than just Waligura, who is now 41 and still living in El Campo.

He had done his rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. At the time, he was the only one there with a knowledge of hunting. Now, anytime the hospital has patients that are avid hunters, they bring Waligura back.

He talks to them about what he's learned and equipment he uses.

He said they also often want to see his truck.

"I have one of the few lifts on a Ford truck," he said. "It fits underneath like a van, and it just raises you up to the seat. There's not too many like that."

As he learned that other people needed the information he had found out himself, he figured out ways to help.

He first created the website "Follow Me Outdoors," which was just a source of information. Through that, he started making contacts around the country, which led him to another idea.

"It just seemed to click one day," he said. "People have some incredible stories. After I heard the fourth or fifth one, I thought, somebody needs to tell these stories."

So that's what he set out to do.

In November of last year, he finally got his new website up - an online magazine called "Disabled Hunter Magazine."

It features stories that are about, by and for disabled hunters.

"You can't get stories like that in main stream magazines," Waligura said.

He said it will cover hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation.

And finding the stories is the easiest part.

"Everywhere I go I find an incredible story about a hunt some disabled hunter has gone on," he said.

One story is about a man who went to the Arctic to hunt caribou on the tundra in his power chair. There are also stories of hunters in chairs bow hunting black bears, or groups going together to hunt antelope.

There are many more, and Waligura plans to tell them.

It could be a chance for others to learn what he's learned. Not just about hunting, but about adapting to a new lifestyle.

"After you suffer an injury like that, you just need to go out and do stuff, no matter what it is," Waligura said. "Once I succeeded at that, it just kind of bled into everything else. After that I was ready to go and conquer other stuff like college and traveling. Once I start beating those small challenges, I want to go onto the next bigger one."

Those challenges have led him all over the world, to hunts in Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Africa.

It occasionally leads him to terrain that is less than ideal.

"There's only a few that are really tough, like tundra or mountains, or sometimes if it's real muddy," he said. "It's a challenge, but it makes it even better when you succeed. There's a way to get around anything if you can figure it out."



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