by: Nerissa Cannon
One of the original Freedom Chair Trailblazers, Nerissa, now works full time with GRIT! Her own journey with chronic illness has made her very passionate about helping other people get the most out of life in spite of a disabling condition. In her new series, IT'S A GRIT LIFE, she shares how the GRIT Freedom Chair helps her engage in her favorite activities and live a life of adventure.
When I first got my Freedom Chair, one of the main things I was hoping to use it for was in my work as a professional dog walker. My biggest client had me trying to keep up with a young German Shepherd for about 8 hours a week. I was having trouble on my crutches, and while I started using my ultralight wheelchair during walks, I was still having trouble navigating the rural area in which we lived. The dogs don't want to stick to the pavement any more than I do!
When I got my Freedom Chair, it was amazing how much my freedom and safety opened up on my walks with the German Shepherd, Trae, and Cash, my Service Dog. There was a slight adjustment period. I had to figure out the best way to hold two leashes where they wouldn't get tangled in the lever action of the chair. I ended up making my own wrist attach leash which worked quite well for us. Overall, the transition went very smoothly and we had a wonderful time exploring well off the pavement. Both pedestrians and cyclists that I would pass on the trails never knew quite what to make of me walking 2 large dogs from a wheelchair. I got all kinds of reactions ranging from fear for my safety to, "They should be pulling you!" I'd simply respond, "Then how would I get my work out in?"
While my career pursuits may have taken me away from dog walking for now, my Freedom Chair still allows me to enjoy time with my own dog. You may have seen my Service Dog Cash shadowing me in various videos and photos from GRIT. I got Cash as a puppy before my health deteriorated. He was originally intended to be a hiking and camping buddy so he basically grew up in nature. That was one of the things I felt the worst about as my health started limiting my ability to go out and explore: I could tell Cash missed it dearly. But now, with my Freedom Chair, I'm able to take Cash on all sorts of adventures! I can even go running with him!
I've talked to a lot of future Freedom Chair riders who also want to do more with their canine companions. So, what is it about the Freedom Chair that makes it great for spending time with your furry friends? Dogs don't want to stay on the pavement, and you shouldn't have to either! Dogs love to explore and the GRIT Freedom Chair allows you the opportunity to go out and explore along with them. The lever system allows you to maintain forward momentum on hills so that there are fewer pace changes your dog would have to pay attention to. Above all the Freedom Chair helps you be SAFE while walking your dog. For me, I get a lot of fulfillment taking my dog out and seeing how happy he is to be able to run out in nature and explore all the fun smells and run through the obstacle course of rocks. If I didn't have the GRIT Freedom Chair I wouldn't be able to see that for myself, or he wouldn't be able to get out at all.