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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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Rollin' on into Nature

Waligura in hunting garb (photo taken by Jen Armstrong)
Waligura in hunting garb (photo taken by Jen Armstrong).

By Brittany Liantonio

Name: Chad Waligura
Age: 41
Injury: C7 living with quadriplegia
Mechanism of injury: Hit head while diving into a swimming pool

July 7, 1986 started off like any other day in El Campo, Texas -- hot and humid. Chad Waligura, 17 at the time, was hanging out with a friend, enjoying the summer weather. He dove into his friend's swimming pool, banged his head on the incline, and was spinal cord injured. "I just have dumb luck to blame it on," says Waligura in a deep southern accent about his accident, "no drinking, no messing around, nothing."

Although Waligura is living with quadriplegia, he has a lot of movement. "I am what they call a 'super quad,'" says Waligura. "It means for a quad, you're about as strong as you can get." Waligura has strong shoulders, triceps, and wrists, just no grip. "If you didn't know, you would think I was a para," says Waligura using slang for someone living with paraplegia.

Rollin' on with life
Waligura knew that because of his accident, he was going to have to give up some things that he enjoyed, like golf. However, he was determined to not give up on the one thing he loved more than anything else in the world -- hunting. When Waligura was 12, his father first took him into the woods. "To kill an animal is such a small part of hunting," says Waligura. "It's just being out in nature, being close to God, and being with friends."

Upon being released from rehab on Halloween, just four months after his accident, Waligura decided to push off his senior year of high school and spend it with his father, getting back into nature and re-learning to hunt again. "We failed miserably every time we got out," says Waligura, "but I needed that to learn what I needed to do next time. That was my first big lesson. Failure is a huge part of the learning process."

Waligura being pulled in his transport chair
Waligura being pulled in his transport chair.

Hunter and inventor
Aside from just learning to hunt again, Waligura had to find new hunting equipment. Since the market for disabled hunting was so small, he had to come up with his own inventions. The first thing he designed was a device that would allow him to pull the trigger of his gun. He used a wanchik, a small metal device that attaches to a person's finger and holds a pen allowing them to write. He redesigned the wanchik with medical tape and shoestrings so that it fit on the outside of his hand rather than the inside. Ten years and three upgrades later, Waligura perfected his trigger pull which is now made out of orthotic plastic and Velcro.

His wanchik trigger pull was the first of many pieces of hunting equipment that Waligura has designed over the years. The list includes a transport chair which allows him to be pulled by one person while out hunting; and a flap attachment to his Under Vehicle Lift (UVL) for his truck, so that he can get his wheelchair in a position for transferring to the driver's seat. "That's one of the few devices that I came up with that worked perfectly the first time," says Waligura. "That doesn't happen very often."

Helping others get back to nature
Waligura is helping other hunters living with disability with the two websites he has created, Follow Me Outdoors (FMO) and Disabled Hunter's Magazine. He started FMO in 1996 because there was hardly any information on the web about disabled hunting. The site contains equipment that Waligura uses, pictures of the equipment, and information on hunts that he has been on.

"I started hearing so many incredible stories from other hunters that have done some things that are just crazy good, like going to the Arctic Tundra," says Waligura. "After I heard three or four of those, I was like, I need to tell these stories." Waligura started Disabled Hunter Magazine in 2010. The site contains information on fishing and hunting, gear reviews, listings of hunts by state, and stories of interesting people. Waligura sees the site as a way to educate people on disabled hunting and to give people living with spinal cord injures confidence that they don't have to give up the things they love.

Waligura bird shooting
Waligura bird shooting.

Waligura's want to help others began shortly after he was released from rehab at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas. He began getting calls from employees at his rehab facility whenever a patient came in that had questions about hunting or fishing. Waligura would go in and talk to the patients, show them his equipment, and give them inspiration that they too, despite their injury, could get back into nature. Not only does Waligura still do this, but he is also a part of a group called TIRR Peers, a program that formed years later in which spinal cord injured patients who have been out of rehab for a while are paired up with patients who are still in rehab that have similar injuries or interests.

Rollin' around the world
It is because of all the volunteer work that Waligura does that he was awarded, in 2010, the Safari Club Foundation's Pathfinder Award. The award is given to a disabled hunter who has not only overcome his disability, but that is also philanthropic and helps others overcome their disability and get back into nature. Along with the award, Waligura gets to go on a free, 10 day safari to Namibia, in Southern Africa, with Jan Oelofse, who is famous for guiding John Wayne.

However, this will not be the first time Waligura will be in Africa; he has already been there once before to hunt zebra, kudu, impala, springbok, and black wildebeest. Aside from South Africa, Waligura has also been deer hunting in Mexico, bird shooting in Argentina, and black bear hunting in Canada.

One place that he has not been, but is dying to go, is New Zealand because they have the biggest red stags (deer) there. "I like to go on hunts that are really pushing the limits," says Waligura. "I like a challenge, especially as far as disabled hunting is involved." He would also love to go to Alaska some day to hunt moose.

Waligura with an impala he hunted in Africa
Waligura with an impala he hunted in Africa.

Refusing to give up
"Get out and go do things, even if you don't know how or you don't know what or where. Just get out and keep going and do it," says Waligura. "You can't stop. Sitting at home is the worst thing you can do."

Aside from getting out and living, Waligura believes that it's important to build a support system of friends and family to go and do things with. "You can never have too many," says Waligura.

It is because of his never-give-up attitude and his support system that Waligura is not counting on a cure for spinal cord injuries. Although, he does believe that scientists are about 10 years out from finding one.

"I was never one to hang my hat on waiting for a cure," says Waligura. "That's like people that are waiting on winning the lottery before they go and do stuff they've always wanted to do. I'm not going to wait. I don't like waiting."

In his spare time
Waligura is a graduate of Texas A&M University and has two degrees, one in wildlife and fisheries science and the other in counseling. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling and playing poker. "Sometimes you can hit the trifecta," says Waligura of hunting, traveling, and playing poker. "When you can get all three in one trip, that's the spice of life right there."


Learn more
Inspired by Chad's story? Join the adaptive hunting group in the Reeve Foundation's online paralysis community. Join Now!

Tell us your story
Telling your story is one way to let anyone touched by paralysis know that they are not alone. We've created a place where you can share your journey for your benefit, and the benefit of others. Your story matters. Share it!

The Adaptive Sports Center (ASC)A non-profit organization located in Colorado that provides year-round recreation activities for people with disabilities and their families.

Achilles Track Club Achilles is a worldwide organization, represented in sixty countries. Our mission is to enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics, promote personal achievement, enhance self esteem, and lower barriers.

American Horticultural Therapy AssociationHorticultural therapy (HT) is not only an emerging profession, it is a time-proven practice. The therapeutic benefits of peaceful garden environments have been understood since ancient times. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and considered to be the "Father of American Psychiatry," reported that garden settings held curative effects for people with mental illness.

Dowling Community Garden: Building Accessible Raised-Bed GardensFunding for the wheelchair accessible beds was provided by the Longfellow Community Council Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). NRP funds paid for the materials and all labor was provided by Dowling gardeners. If you are a wheelchair gardener or know a wheelchair gardener who would be interested in gardening at Dowling, please call the Dowling Community Garden voice mail at (651) 255-6607.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Wheelchair and Equipment Donations (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Adjustment to SCI (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Aging with SCI (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Gardening for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Golf for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Hunting for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Sailing for People with Disabilities (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Autobiogs or Biogs (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Chat Rooms (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Research (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Tutorial 101 (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Videos (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Deep Vein Thrombosis (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Mindfullness (PDF)

Arkansas Spinal Cord CommissionThe mission of the Arkansas Spinal Cord Commission is to administer a statewide program to identify and meet the unique and lifelong needs of people with spinal cord disabilities in the state.

Assistive Technology (AT) Resources: Proper fit of a wheelchairThe National Academy of Neuropsychology (NAN) has compiled a list of various Assistive Technology (AT) resource agencies around the nation, including resources on driver education, independent living, state agencies, mobility equipment and more.

American Association of AdaptedSportWorks to enhance the health, independence and self-sufficiency of youths with physical disabilities by facilitating adapted sports programs in local communities, in cooperation with schools, parks and recreation, YMCA/YWCAs, hospitals, parents and other groups.

Aquila Wheelchair CushionsThe Aquila Corporation offers a line of alternating pressure wheelchair cushions along with a two-zone static manual inflate cushion. These cushions are designed to meet pressure relief needs thereby helping to prevent pressure sores from developing down the road.

BrunoBruno Independent Living Aids has become known for its: power chairs, scooters, high quality stair lifts and Turning Automotive Seating.

Blaze Sports501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advances the lives of youth and adults with physical disability through sport and healthy lifestyles. BlazeSports provides sports training, competitions, summer camps and other sports and recreational opportunities for youth and adults with spinal cord injury, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, muscular dystrophy, amputation, visual impairment or blindness as well as other physical disabilities.

Challenged AmericaThe Challenged America program is dedicated to introduce sailing as a therapeutic and rehabilitative enhancing activity to individuals with disabilities, their loved ones, and professionals in healthcare and rehabilitation.

CareCure CommunityCareCure Community features a SpinalNurse bulletin board with informed comments on matters of the bowel, and all issues of paralysis.

Canadian & American Spinal Research OrganizationPromotes and supports funding research to ultimately find a cure for paralysis. Also publishes journal of latest research they fund. Call (800) 361-4004 or use the link above.

Canadian Paraplegic AssociationAssists people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities to achieve individuality, self-reliance and full community participation. Call (613) 723-1033 or use the link above.

ColoursFor people who like to think outside the box, check out the chairs put out by Colours In Motion.

Craig HospitalWith funding from the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research, has developed educational materials to help people with spinal cord injuries live in the community maintain their health. Topics include skin care, exercise, heart disease, weight control, alcohol abuse and conditions related to the aging body. Use the link above and click on SCI Health and Wellness.

e.motionA standard manual wheelchair can get extra help with special rims containing small yet powerful motors.

Determined 2 HealProvides helpful information for the newly spinal cord injured.

Disabled Sports USAOffers nationwide sports rehabilitation programs to anyone with a permanent physical disability. Activities include winter skiing, water sports, summer and winter competitions, fitness and special sports events. DSUSA, as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, is the governing body for winter sports for all athletes with disabilities, and for summer sports for amputee athletes. Nationwide chapter network of sports and rec programs.

eHow: How to Make a Wheelchair/Scooter Accessible Raised Garden BedHow to build an accessible raised bed garden from inexpensive, easily obtained materials. This is a thoughtful, enriching and enabling gift for the elderly, disabled and arthritic individuals.

E Nasco: CelluGro™ Wheelchair Accessible Green Thumb Therapy GardenDesigned by a horticultural therapist, this makes it possible for anyone who may not be able to do traditional gardening to be active gardeners.

The Handicapped Scuba AssociationPromotes the physical and social well being of people with disabilities through the exhilarating sport of scuba diving.

Hand CyclingWhether for fitness, serious competition, or pure recreation, here's a sport that can be enjoyed by many and provide quite the "ride" at the same time.

Frog LegsFrog Legs Inc. makes a product that makes mobility a much smoother experience. A flexible hinge allows the castor wheels on wheelchairs to move more easily over bumps and obstacles thereby reducing the impact normally felt by the person seated. Think of them as shock absorbers for your wheelchair.

Flaghouse: Gardening ProductsTo enhance the quality of life for all people, with resources for physical activity, recreation, therapy, and the development and support of life skills.

Friends Hospital: Adaptive Gardening to Meet Your Changing NeedsGardening is one of our most popular national pastimes. Horticulture can be enjoyed by almost everyone, whether young or old, weak or strong, able-bodied or handicapped. Gardening can be a vigorous activity or a sedentary one. As you grow older or your physical abilities change, there is no need for you to stop gardening. Gardens and tools may be modified to help ease stress and strain and allow you to continue to participate in one of the best leisure activities.

Gardener's Supply Co.Disability Opens New Doors for a Lifelong Gardener .

Infinitec: Enabling Gardens This section demonstrates accessible ways to garden, but please consult general gardening resources for help with soil preparation, planting, fertilizing, mulching, pruning, etc.

FacingDisability.comFacing Disability is a web resource with more than 1,000 videos drawn from interviews of people with spinal cord injuries, their families, caregivers and experts. I know that this is a lot to ask, but we'd be so grateful for your help. I'm looking forward to discussing this link with you, and to answering any questions you may have.

Model Systems CentersA federally funded program of 14 specialty medical and/or rehabilitation centers across the US. The SCI Care System collects and submits acute, rehabilitation and follow-up (annual, long-term post-discharge) data on SCI patients who received care in the these centers following injury.

The Miami Project to Cure ParalysisThe Miami Project to Cure Paralysis has studied functional electrical systems for exercise.

The Jay CushionSunrise Medical produces a cushion for wheelchairs called The Jay which is filled with a slow-flowing gel. The Jay addresses posture, skin and functional needs.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC)NSCISC supervises and directs the collection, management and analysis of the world's largest spinal cord injury database. Headquartered at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

National Wheelchair Basketball AssociationBasketball is perhaps the oldest organized sport for athletes in wheelchairs. The game is fast and fun, and played in dozens of cities across the U.S.

The National Center on AccessibilityNSCD provides recreation for children and adults with disabilities. In addition to recreational downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, NSCD provides year-round competition training to ski racers with disabilities. Summer recreation opportunities include biking, hiking, in-line skating, sailing, therapeutic horseback riding, white water rafting, baseball, fishing, rock climbing for the blind, and camping.

National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA)At NSCIA, we educate and empower survivors of spinal cord injury and disease to achieve and maintain the highest levels of independence, health and personal fulfillment. We fulfill this mission by providing an innovative Peer Support Network and by raising awareness about spinal cord injury and disease through education.

New York Online Access to Health (N.O.A.H)Offers information and links related to spinal cord and head injury treatment, rehabilitation, and children. Materials in Spanish.

Neuroscience for KidsOffers an understandable look at the segments of the spinal cord; from University of Washington.

Paralyzed Veterans of America, in support of The Consortium for Spinal Cord Medicine, offers authoritative clinical practice guidelines for bladder management. Consumer guides are available to download.

Piers Park Sailing CenterA non-profit community sailing center that uses Boston Harbor and the seas beyond to provide year-round recreational, educational, and personal growth opportunities for people of all ages and abilities!

PermobilPermobil produces chairs ideal for those requiring the flexibility to constantly change positions. Technology and comfort combine to allow for active sitting.

Quad RugbyFormerly known as murderball, Quad Rugby is a game for quads who can push a chair. Fast, rough and very competitive.

Pride MobilityFor tight and precise control, Pride Mobility Products Corporation makes the very popular Jazzy Power Chairs.

Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago: Wheelchair Seating & PositioningHaving mobility is an important factor in being able to lead a productive and fulfilling life. If an individual is unable to walk, an appropriate mobility base and seating system are imperative to enhance the ability to interact and perform functional skills.

ROHOThe ROHO is a brand of cushion seats designed for protection and comfort. Each cushion is based on a support system of evenly distributed air.

The Spinal Cord Injury Information Network: Wheelchairs & SeatingInformation on seating and positioning.

SpineUniverseAt SpineUniverse our goal is to help patients and their families understand their back or neck problems. In clear, straightforward language we aim to explain what causes spinal problems and how they can be treated. We are committed to ensure that all of the information we present is trustworthy and of the highest quality.

Spinal Cord Injury Information NetworkThe Spinal Cord Injury Information Center features clinical information about bowel management and all other medical issues of paralysis.

Spinlife.comOnline durable medical equipment (including wheelchairs and cushions).

SportaidOnline catalog for durable medical equipment.

TiLiteTitanium wheelchairs; lightweight and strong.

UCP Wheels for HumanityA non-profit organization that refurbishes donated wheelchairs and hand fits them to children and adults with disabilities in developing nations.

United Spinal AssociationOur mission is to improve the quality of life of all Americans living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), and post polio.

The United States Tennis AssociationTennis has been adapted for the wheelchair player: the ball can bounce two times. This allows chair-players to give standup players a run for the their money. The sport is growing fast and is very competitive at the elite level. Click on "community tennis."

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Fact Sheet: VA and Spinal Cord InjuryOf the more than 250,000 Americans with serious spinal cord injuries and disorders, about 42,000 are veterans eligible for medical care and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

World T.E.A.M. SportsUnites people with and without disabilities through unique athletic events taking place all over the world.

Wheelchairjunkie.comA resourceful and opinionated website owned and operated by self-described "power chair gonzo" Mark E. Smith, who also designs power chairs for Pride Mobility Products. Says Smith, "WheelchairJunkie.com is about mobility, not manufacturers, so the voices expressed here represent only users."

WheelchairNetA federally funded virtual community for people who have an interest in wheelchair technology.

Wheelchair FoundationOver 100 million of the world's citizens today are deprived of mobility because of warfare, disease, disaster or advanced age. The wheelchairs they need simply to get across the street - or across the room - are out of reach. The Wheelchair Foundation believes that these people deserve the independence and dignity that comes with owning a wheelchair, regardless of their nationality. This is a nonprofit organization leading an international effort to deliver a wheelchair to every man, woman and child in the world who needs one. For those individuals, the Wheelchair Foundation offers freedom, self-reliance, mobility and hope.

Whirlwind Wheelchair InternationalWhirlwind Wheelchair International (WWI) is the communications hub of the Whirlwind Wheelchair Network of independent wheelchair-producing workshops in developing countries. Founded in 1989 as the Wheeled Mobility Center (WMC), WWI's primary mission is 1) to teach wheelchair riders in developing countries to design, build, and repair their own wheelchairs; 2) to enable rider/builders to create businesses for the manufacture and distribution of wheelchairs to others; and 3) to foster the ever-widening Whirlwind Network of rider/builders around the world who exchange ideas for the continuous improvement of wheelchair design.

World Wide Wheelchairs & Used Medical EquipmentScott Dier began this company in July 1998. He wanted to sell a hearing aid on the Internet. Then people started asking about wheelchairs and other medical equipment! Mr. Dier then proceeded to look for equipment around North America and found many items available. World Wide Wheelchairs exploded into a company that was needed throughout the world! They have sent medical equipment and wheelchairs to India, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Jamaica, Canada, England, Brazil and all over the U.S. and the U.S. Military.

Wheelchair AccessoriesClick on this link to see how you can accessorize your chair or scooter and improve matters. Backpacks, cupholders, trays, canopies and umbrellas are just a few examples.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90PR3001, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.