Even though he doesn’t have legs, Hunter Baughman took another big step in the bass fishing world on May 20.
Baughman, who lost his legs below his knees along with his left hand and digits on his right hand to bacterial meningitis at 9 months old, won the Mr. Bass of Arkansas tournament on Millwood Lake. For Baughman, a well-known stick on the Arkansas River, it was his biggest win.
“It was against all the guys I look up to,” he said. “I think they’re the best fishermen in the state of Arkansas. I’ve aspired to be as good them for years. There’s guys who’ve accomplished so much more than me.”
Yet none have had to come as far as Baughman. While he might say he’s limb-challenged, nothing has stopped Baughman from doing anything. He might have to figure out how to do it “his way,” but he gets after every task in front of him and doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. He just wants to be one of the guys.
“The more you get to know me, I hope you just see me as normal,” he said. “Normal, that’s it, nothing else.”
Baughman confronts his condition with humor -- the first thing he told guests on his boat was to stow a camera box under the console because “I don’t need any leg room.” On duck hunts when someone complains their feet are cold, he responds, “Mine aren’t.”
“I love doing that,” he said. “I used to tell my mom … she’d be talking about something costing money that I wanted. ‘Well, you never bought me shoes all my life, why can’t you buy me that?’ ”
Busting jokes breaks the ice, makes others know he’s comfortable with who he is and that he wants to be treated like everyone else -- normal. Yet the 31-year-old had a start to life that was anything but normal.
Growing up Hunter
Nine months old is about the time most children start standing before taking their first steps. Instead, Baughman was at Arkansas Children’s Hospital for three months, undergoing several surgeries after contracting the fast progressing disease that can lead to death within a day. It affected his extremities. Taking them saved his life.