Freedom Chair riders aren't just our customers - they're part of the GRIT family. Today's Rider Spotlight features Tyler Rich. Read on to learn about his adventures!
"You have the freedom to go anywhere and do anything."
Tyler is an active 25 year old living with Spastic Diplegic Cerebral Palsy. He considers himself lucky that his is a "pretty mild case" in the sense that his upper body and speech is largely unaffected. However, because of numerous orthopedic surgeries his stamina for standing and walking isn't very good.
"I've had an aversion to medical things. I've fought my whole life to stay out of a wheelchair even though for all intents and purposes I'm 'wheelchair bound.' Standard wheelchairs irritate me."
Tyler's primary means of getting around is a Segway with an adapted seat, and then treking poles for shorter distances. He found, though, that he was limited in certain situations.
Why did Tyler decide on the Freedom Chair?
Tyler found his adaptive Segway did not like functioning in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. When he first encountered the GRIT Freedom Chair while attending the No Barriers Summit 2016 in Copper Mountain, CO he thought it looked like something that could enhance his winters and hunting trips. He appreciated that it didn't look like standard "medical equipment."
"There is something to be said for aesthetics too. It looks gnarly; it's a cool looking chair."
At first Tyler thought the cost would be prohibitive, and he didn't want to ask for help with the purchase. His loved ones convinced him it would be worthwhile, though.
"I hate GoFundMe, but people were like, 'no you need this.' I had a Freedom Chair about a month later. Funded all but about $1000, then used the financing; I wanted my own equity in the chair. I work part-time and catch gigs where I can to make extra cash, and I'm on disability, but it was still very much on the realm of feasibility."
What activities does Tyler enjoy doing in the Freedom Chair?
While Tyler originally got his Freedom Chair expecting to use it on hunting trips and in the winter, in June 2017 he got hooked on a whole new activity. Tyler was working on the board of a local obstacle race. During the event the guy who set up the race kept telling Tyler to run the course just for publicity, so Tyler thought, "All right." He signed up and got thrown onto a random team which ended up being Operation Enduring Warrior (OEW).
Operation Enduring Warrior is a non-profit organization "whose mission is to honor, empower and motivate America’s wounded military service members. [Their] physical, mental and emotional rehabilitative cycle is modeled to overcome adversity and hardship through innovation, teamwork and perseverance; ultimately enabling Wounded Warriors' lives to go in directions they once thought impossible." As Tyler describes, they took him under their wing as their "token civilian."
"I have guys helping assist me. The masked guys help the wounded guys, but my Fellow OCAs [ Community Ambassadors] were adamant that I run courses. The wounded guys always go first. Towards the end they pull me towards the front because they want to finish with me which is humbling."
Since June 2017, Tyler has completed over 50 racing miles, (not even counting training miles) and even recently completed a Green Beret Challenge.
"I tell people it's like driving a Hummer H1. There's a learning curve but then you are good to go maneuvering tight spaces . . . "The fact that I have been so rough on it and it still works as well as the day I got it is impressive.""
What is Tyler's favorite thing about the Freedom Chair?
After using his adaptive Segway for 10 years, it went out of commission for a couple months. He didn't have the means to repair it, and the Freedom Chair became his primary means of mobility. He was grateful to have it during that time so he wasn't limited in his every day activities.
"Navigating around, especially urban environments with curbs and things, I can drop and climb curbs. When I first got the Freedom Chair that was one of the things I made sure to go out and do. I started playing with popping, wheelies, and balance on a soft grass area so that if I fell I wouldn't hurt myself."
Tyler also appreciates how simple and inexpensive it is to maintain the Freedom Chair when something does need attention.
When stuff goes wrong with the Segway it's expensive. With this chair that hasn't been the case. When my [front] wheel broke, everyone at GRIT was amazing. I got a new wheel in 3 days at no cost, they just wanted me to send back the broken wheel to see how it had broken."