By Sarah Schuetze
“We thought we’d do one more run,” said Cory Zigmund about a trip he took to Colorado to visit his brother during the summer of 2013. They were on a backcountry glacier and planned to hike to the top and snowboard down. On the ride down, Zigmund hit a ditch on the rough slope and wiped out, completely dislocating his shoulder. As a trained U.S. Navy SEAL medic, Zigmund knew how to fix it, but his brother had to do it. Step-by-step, he walked his brother through the processes of popping his bone back into joint so they could complete the run.
Zigmund has filled his life with adventures — most of which have not required impromptu medical assistance on the face of a glacier. But even the especially challenging ones haven’t discouraged him from taking advantage of an opportunity to explore something new.
Hiking, climbing, snowboarding, and diving through both water and the sky — he’s explored a lot of terrain. This spring, Zigmund gets to blaze a new trail by being the first student graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from UK’s Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies (WRD).
After spending eight and a half years in the SEAL Teams, Zigmund returned to his home state of Kentucky and enrolled at UK as an English major – and just two semesters before graduating he added a second major in WRD, still managing to graduate in four and a half years.
Zigmund really thought that the two programs complemented each other.
"WRD went right along with what I was doing in English and the things I would like to do in the future, which include writing about my experiences exploring both the more accessible outdoors and remote wildernesses,” Zigmund said.
English had been one of Zigmund’s favorite subjects in high school, and writing had always been a part of his life. In fact, during middle school, just for fun he and his father wrote a book together. It was a story where kids traveled to a new dimension — having fantastic adventures that Zigmund has come close to experiencing in real life.
When Zigmund was a senior at Henry Clay High School, he spear-headed the creation of a semester-long creative writing class. The class was a success and Zigmund continued to meet with the teacher after the term was over, through an independent study, discussing style and writing. His teacher urged him to consider doing something with writing instead of going into the military as he had planned.
His teacher’s words stuck with him over the years he served, and when he was ready for the next adventure, he knew what path to follow — equipped with years of unique experiences that would filter into his writing.
Throughout his time majoring in English at UK, Zigmund took several WRD classes including Travel Writing and Multimedia Writing, and when he heard that WRD was offering a major, he sought information about what he would have to do to double-major. He spoke with WRD faculty Beth Connors-Manke and Brian McNely and learned he only needed 24 additional credits. Not one to turn down an opportunity to try a new adventure, Zigmund went for it.
“Everyone in the WRD program has been phenomenal. They’ve been extremely helpful. Any questions I’ve had have been quickly answered. They’ve been outstanding,” Zigmund said.
And the praise goes both ways. McNely shared that “Working with Cory was one of the best things that could have happened to me as DUS [Director of Undergraduate Studies]: helping him navigate a path to the degree helped me navigate the WRD curriculum, and to learn the administrative ins and outs of my new role in the department. Professors often note that they learn much from their students; this was definitely the case for me as I worked with Cory over the last year, in both my role as a faculty advisor, and as a professor.”
According to Joshua Abboud, Zigmund “represents the kind of student we look for as WRD majors.” Having worked with Zigmund in multiple classes, Abboud considers his student to be “bright, curious, hard-working, and possessing a self-awareness of how his work impacts the world around him. All of Cory’s work has shown an ability to connect his professional interests to his personal interests in innovative ways.”
Both Abboud and McNely note Zigmund’s ability to integrate his love for travel and exploration with his skills in writing and media. It was in their classes that Zigmund began developing a website, that he had been previously theorizing, bringing his two passions together. It’s an outdoor adventure website — part guidebook, part survival manual, part trail map — that he’s compiled from his own experiences and written for people of all skill levels. He hopes to continue building it by collaborating with some of his friends who share the same interests.
Abboud has seen the progress of this project and explained that Zigmund wants to help “others find the same kinds of excitement he derives from these excursions, and he makes that excitement contagious.”
Zigmund shared his belief that “you should always try to find ways to combine things you enjoy, with what experiences, what knowledge, and what education you have and put it all together. English and WRD will definitely enable you to write and inform your audience about whatever passions you share.”
This summer Zigmund is again planning another trek across Rocky Mountain National Park with a friend he met in the military — another medic, so they’ll both be in good hands.