About Todd Craighead

Born with Arthrogryposis

Todd Craighead started life with one hand behind his back – literally. Arthrogryposis, a condition resulting from restricted movement in the womb, had stiffened his joints and left him with poorly developed muscles and bones. Weighing a mite four pounds, his feet were deformed, hands cupped, his right hip was out of socket and right arm was twisted back up behind his head.

Today, he sits in his office at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation surrounded by photos of family and friends, honors and treasured mementos from favorite hunts. Driven by the stalwart resolve of his parents and his inner desire to persevere, he tells how he turned his love for the outdoors into a rewarding vocation and ultimately became the host of the Wildlife Department’s award-winning television show.

“Back in 1969, there wasn’t extra testing done on my mom during her pregnancy, so it was truly a surprise that I came out different,” Todd explains. “I wasn’t even expected to make it through the night.”

The doctors’ prognosis the following day was equally grim. Todd’s parents, Donna and Max, were told that their newborn would forever be a burden on them, needing constant care and possibly institutionalization. At her hospital bedside, Donna’s mother echoed the doctor’s concerns. “You’ll probably have Todd with you always. He’ll have to be kept at home,” Donna remembers her saying. “But I knew he’d be worse off then. I never wanted to sugar-coat Todd, his life or his challenges.”

Many Surgeries

A lengthy series of corrective surgeries were performed on Todd as an infant and into his grade school years. His out-of-socket hip was replaced and pins inserted into his arm to hold it in the proper position. A tendon and ligament transplant was required so that he could have the muscles to pull his wrist up and his feet were flattened out and straightened.

“Surgeries up through fifth grade got me to where I am today,” Todd recalls. “There were talks of doing other types of surgeries, but they were either experimental or had a definite tradeoff – we can get Todd to where he can do this, but he could no longer have another function.”

His mother recounted a particular touching moment when Todd became despondent over a procedure’s apparent failure.  “He asked me, Mom, what are we going to tell all the people at church that are praying for me?  I told him - if you and I can stand it, then they can, too.”

Inventing and Adapting

Despite the physical challenges facing their son, Todd’s parents realized that when faced with an issue, he figured out his own unique way to deal with it. Max was a hobbyist woodworker and often made special “tools” for Todd. “I sure cut up a lot of clothes hangers,” he laughed. “Todd would come up with the idea and it was my job to make it.” Together, they developed configurations of hooks and loops to aid Todd fastening his clothing and even turned an old soccer shin guard and Velcro into what Todd jokingly called his ‘sock-put’er-on’er’.
     
“My parents were miraculous, insightful people and realized early on that given time and space, I could figure out how to do things. That made all the difference in my life,” Todd says proudly.

Hunting and Fishing

Todd did not grow up in a sporting family that hunted or fished together as a hobby. But on the weekends, he was allowed to choose an activity for the family to enjoy.  “I was always torn between shooting my B-B gun or going fishing,” he says. Soon, he discovered that hunting and fishing offered a way to improve his self-image. “I remember that when I started hunting and fishing, even though I might be holding the gun or fishing pole differently, I could become more than an equal to my peers – I could be considered a contender. Hunting and fishing became that arena where the first time in my life, I could do something as well as anybody else and sometimes even better.”

Honing his outdoor skills became not only a physical challenge, but more importantly, a mental game. “If you don’t have your wits about you, then you’re not going to be prepared when that covey rises right under your feet.  Or if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to never see or hear a turkey in the woods because you’re just bumbling around.”  He adds, “I couldn’t letter in football. I wasn’t going to be on the tennis team, but I could be one of the best around at deer or turkey hunting. I grabbed on to that tight and I loved it.  I loved it at an early age and probably love it even deeper today.”

Todd vividly remembers one occasion when, much to the chagrin of his parents, he went deer hunting by himself. He shot a doe on opening day, leaving him with an unfilled buck tag on the last day of the season. As the sun began to set, he shot a buck.

But the real challenge was just beginning. Alone in a soft, muddy wheat field with his jeep a half-mile away, Todd considered his alternatives – did he go home for help or find a way to load the deer himself?

Determined to return home triumphant with his trophy, Todd devised a plan. “It’s dark by this time,” he explains, “so I lassoed the deer’s head, secured the rope on me and for the next hour, I drug that deer a half-mile across the wheat field to my jeep. But now how do I get this 130-pound deer into my vehicle?”

Drawing on the same ingenuity that he used to design his “tools”, he stacked his jeep’s toolbox and a plastic storage tub to create a ladder stair-step from the ground to the back of the jeep. After tying the deer’s legs together, he ran the rope up through the jeep and around the steering wheel. “I turned the steering wheel all the way to the right and turned the jeep on. I then turned the steering wheel all the way to the left, wrapping the rope around the steering wheel column, which would gain about eight inches on that deer. With the deer hanging off the back end of the jeep, I’d go back and stick the toolbox under it to hold it up. Then I’d go back, unwrap the rope around the steering wheel, repeat the process and gain another eight inches.”

Todd’s eyes flash jubilantly as he finishes his tale. “I did that about five or six times to where I was able to get the deer up far enough that I could crawl underneath and lift it up on my back into the jeep. I did it!”

College

After graduating high school, Todd went to Oklahoma State University and majored in wildlife ecology with an emphasis in communications.  Like many college freshmen, he pledged a fraternity – Farm House – and commenced another life-changing period in his life.

Todd gives credit to his fraternity brothers for fostering his self-confidence. “I really owe a lot to those upperclassmen, because they knew they weren’t going to do me any favors by setting me aside and not letting me experience pledgeship to the fullest degree like the others.  And they knew my pledge brothers were not going to have near the respect for me if I wasn’t required to do everything that they were required to do. It was all very liberating.”

Todd remains close to several of his pledge brothers, including fellow Oklahoman Jim Evans, who admitted his skepticism when he first met Todd.  “I thought, great, we’re going to have to carry his load too, but there was never a time that Todd wasn’t willing to jump in and help.”

Today as a father, Jim values his friendship with Todd even more.  “My girls have grown up interacting with Todd and it’s helped them when they encounter other handicapped people.  They don’t recognize them as disabled, they recognize them as people.” 

The World of Work

After graduation, Todd went to work for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado as a natural resources interpreter.  For three and a half years, his duties included public speaking in the campgrounds and running a visitors center.  Again, he credits his fraternity experience for his success in this new endeavor. “I was always somewhat self-conscious about myself and worried about my first impressions because I looked so different. My experience in the fraternity helped get me over that as well. As a pledge you’re required to learn about your house and university history and “regurgitate” that history on command before your peers.  Once you become used to it, it almost becomes a comfort zone for you.”

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation 

In 1995, Todd began working for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation as a publications specialist, responsible for desktop publishing and the state’s hunting and fishing regulations. “That’s when it all clicked. I realized that everything else in my life had been leading me up to this point and I had truly found my niche.”

Todd was also given the opportunity to write scripts for the Department’s television show Outdoor Oklahoma and after some inner restructuring, the TV show needed a new host. After a trial run, Todd took over.

Todd shakes his head as if he still can’t believe his good fortune. “For a kid that was too insecure to even talk to the cashier at Wal-Mart and today be in 250,000 homes a week on a TV show where they can scrutinize my every move and every word - that’s quite a leap. I have to pinch myself and remind myself that I do have the best job in the world.” 

Todd's Ministry

As Todd’s life evolves, so do new opportunities.  A few years ago, he started a Christian Sportsmen’s Fellowship group at his church.  “It essentially uses hunting and fishing as the platform to evangelize to men,” he explains. “Because of being outspoken about my faith and of course, being very visible in the hunting and fishing community, the two have, to no surprise, overlapped and I regularly speak at their events.” Todd also serves as the state’s regional director and oversees the activities in eight new chapters across the state.


Todd has also moved behind the camera lens, working as a freelance videographer. “I work with Drury Outdoors, providing footage for their video series, so being behind the camera – maybe that’s the next thing for me,” he muses.

In reflecting back about his experiences, Todd offers advice to others with disabilities. “You may require extra help – you may require somebody to build you a ramp or go with you and be a part of the entire experience. You might not be able to experience a solo hunt or fishing trip. You might need somebody there. But don’t forget that the need for someone else to help you is just as rewarding, just as much of a blessing to them as it is to you. They need those types of opportunities to be able to give back to the sport. If that’s sacrificing a weekend to take you out, then they’re going to be a much richer person inside for having done that, so don’t feel uncomfortable about asking for help. And don’t sell yourself short – where there’s a will, there’s a way.”