WALLER, Texas -- Chad Waligura is an expert outdoorsman who helps others experience getting outside and he does it all from his wheelchair.
Waligura grew up in El Campo and learned to hunt and fish with his father and grandfather.
In 1986, when Waligura was 17 years old, he broke his neck diving into a pool. Following the accident, he spent three-months in rehab at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston.
"A lot of my focus went to hunting and fishing because I wanted one thing, I wanted one thing that I loved to do," said Waligura. "If I could keep that one thing, I knew I'd be ok."
As soon as he could, Waligura and his father got back into the woods where they worked to create adaptable equipment so Waligura could hunt again.
Waligura stayed in touch with his therapists at TIRR, who started reaching out to him to ask if he could talk to current patients with spinal cord injuries, who wanted to do some of the same activities.
In 1997, the TIRR Peers program started. It helps connect new patients to former TIRR patients with similar injuries or interests.
"When the TIRR Peers program started, naturally they grandfathered me in," said Waligura. "I didn't have a choice. I was doing it anyways."
Waligura says so many people helped him when he was first getting back outdoors that he wanted to pay it back. He has gone on to mentor hundreds of people to help them with their rehab and get back outside. Waligura says helping others is what he loves doing.
Waligura has been recognized for his work in disabled hunting. He has been named Challenged Hunter of the Year by the Buckmasters' American Deer Foundation; Outdoor Sportsman of the Year by No Excuse Hunting; and he was given the Pathfinder Award by the Safari Club International. He was also the first quadriplegic to handle a gun dog/service dog in a UKC & AKC Hunt Test.
Waligura's latest project is a show called "Able Outdoors" that highlights outdoor activities for people with disabilities and includes the types of equipment and support available to make that happen.