A family’s recovery after a devastating life changing accident on Mex 1
Larry Cooper’s Baja story began with the common denominator of many…a love of fishing. It would be many years later that a tragic turn of events would demand tremendous courage from him and his family. He would have to muster his “true grit” to continue to enjoy the fishing he loved.
His first visit to Los Barriles in 1978 introduced him to the Sea of Cortez with its extraordinary and easily accessible fishery. Quickly he, his wife Terri and their toddler sons, Erin and Brian, fell into the routine of making the long trek from Sun Valley, Idaho every spring, towing their 24’ Skipjack and camping in a motor home at the famous Martin Verdugos Beach Resort. He recalls, “I was clueless as to the amount of big game species that surrounded Bahia de las Palmas. I was hooked, literally!!”
For the next decade the Cooper family piled one exciting Baja spring trip on another. Like many other families before them, in 1990 they purchased beachfront lots up the beach from Verdugos and they moved on to the next phase of their Baja adventure. Soon they were in full construction mode building a home to their specifications.Their motor home was replaced with a Suburban equipped with a trailer so they could haul supplies down from the states. As construction continued, the long and tedious trips back and forth from Sun Valley became more frequent to provide material not available in Baja.
The trips were uneventful until March 20th, 1992. As was their normal routine when driving down, they spent the night at Guerrero Negro. The following morning about 9:30 a.m., Larry and his wife resumed their trip down Mex 1.
An hour later, just north of Vizcaíno, Larry had the cruise control set at 45 mph and Terri was resting in the back seat. In the rearview mirror he could see a Mexican bus approaching rapidly. Staying as far to the right as he could in a no passing zone, he maintained his speed.
Instead of slowing, the bus driver did the unthinkable and went roaring around the suburban forcing it off the road. When the dust cleared the SUV had rolled and was on its collapsed roof. Larry’s neck was shattered just above his shoulders. Rescuers, who came to his aid, pulled Larry from the wreck resulting in paralysis.
Unharmed, a dazed Terri marshaled all the courage she had to go through the process to have Larry evacuated back to the U.S. as quickly as possible. Once there, she organized a medical team dedicated to assisting him in regaining as much mobility as he could.
A pool hoist is used to load the wheelchair confined angler onto the boat or even up to the flying bridge.
For Larry and Terri, recovery seemed agonizingly slow as they both adjusted to the life changes that were forced on them in that instant on a remote Baja highway. With toughness and determination Larry fought his way back and in less than a year he was ready to return to his beloved Baja.
A rod stabilizer to allow a handicapped angler to hold the fishing rod.
During the year he spent in physical therapy, recovering, the house in Los Barriles was completed with wider doors, roll-under sink, and a roll-in shower to accommodate his wheelchair.
Special rod and harness provide the additional support needed for the angler to battle the big fish regardless of their handicap. Fishing had brought Larry to Baja in the first place. Wheelchair or not he was determined to continue to pursue his passion for sportfishing.
Larry lands sierra on equipment he specially designed since his accident.
Over the next five years, proving his ‘true grit’, Larry designed and developed the components necessary to allow him to fish successfully from a 16’ aluminum boat, powered with a 25 hp outboard. He adapted a no grip rail plate with Velcro so he could steady the rod with his damaged left hand, while he reeled with his right. He added a standard harness and a lockdown device for his wheelchair. These innovations allowed him to become a triumphant, diehard quadriplegic fisherman catching marlin, dorado, tuna, and giant grouper.
For the next few years Larry, the diehard fisherman, fine tuned the apparatuses he had developed which allowed him to continue to fish. He constantly tinkered with his boat, as well, making it as wheel chair friendly as possible. Of course, a sixteen foot platform provided only a limited amount of space to accommodate him, his wheel chair and a buddy, and the afternoon chop was very uncomfortable aboard the smaller boat.
In the time between bites, Larry began to daydream about the ideal boat for someone confined to a wheelchair.
First was the physical attributes of the boat itself; a flat deck was necessary…one without engine boxes in the cockpit. Also needed was a boat with a low step or no-step into the salon, passageways wide enough for a wheelchair, and an accessible bridge.
Soon those ‘between the bite daydreams’ morphed into a rough draft of specifications. Larry and his wife, Terri, began poring over boating magazines and searched the Internet for just the right boat. Slowly the search narrowed from 100’s of yachts to a 37’ Egg Harbor, a boat that closely matched the requirements with its 100+ square foot cockpit, flush deck, low 3 inch step into the salon and passageways wide enough for a wheelchair to pass.
But there were no Egg Harbors of that size to be found on the West Coast. After an exhausting five trips to the East Coast to sea trial various boats during the next eighteen months, Larry and Terri finally found THE perfect boat located in Freeport, NY. Used as a floating condo, the boat had never been fished, and was basically in its original showroom condition, complete with new engines and electronics!
Once Larry had taken delivery of the Egg Harbor, he recruited a crew among his friends and wheelchair-bound, Larry and his crew headed the 1,278 miles down the Inter Coastal Waterway to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The boat, En Caliente, was then loaded onto a freighter and taken through the Panama Canal to its destination, Ensenada, in July 2007. Larry and the crew met the boat and then brought the En Caliente to its new home at East Cape.
Larry equipped the boat with a pool hoist for loading the wheelchair, with him seated in it, onto the boat or up onto bridge. He added lock down devices for a fighting chair or wheel chair and other equipment and devices to accommodate disabled anglers. Last, but not least, the boat was equipped with an in-transom live bait tank and tuna tubes.
Larry and Terri have also completed a guest suite that is completely wheelchair friendly. They have an ATV that is available for the disabled as well.
And Larry keeps dreaming. As one dream is fulfilled, he and Terri are already planning the next one. Their current dream is to provide fishing trips for disabled anglers, veterans and other disabled or handicapped troubled young adults. They hope to reveal the many exciting opportunities available to those who are confined to a wheelchair, including the excitement of big game fishing. Their goal is to encourage others to dream and find a way to fulfill their dreams.
Wheelchair equipped with custom lockdown device to allow angler to remain steady while fighting a fish.
It is hard to imagine that sixteen years ago Larry was being drug out from under a thrashed suburban while a frightened and forlorn Terri looked on…each of them facing what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles, and each of them encouraging the other when one became discouraged.
Today, Larry and Terri’s enthusiasm for life is infectious. It is easy to get caught up as they both excitedly outline their plans for the future.
Christopher Reeve once said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles”. I think both Larry and Terri qualify!