It's not just our Freedom Chair Riders that are a part of the GRIT Family. The Freedom Chair experience extends to our riders' loved ones as well. We wanted to highlight those Trail Buddies who accompany our riders on their adventures, and hear about how the Freedom Chair has helped their loved ones. Today's Trail Buddy Spotlight is Kelsom Owens.
"It lets her be her. Let’s her be the girl that I love. I like that it gives her more freedom. It gives her the ability to go out and do the things that makes life fulfilling and enjoyable to her."
Kelsom is a 28 year old living in Southern Utah. He spends as much time as he can outside, and much of that time on one of his many bikes. He is the boyfriend of Freedom Chair Rider, Nerissa Cannon. Nerissa was one of GRIT's original Traiblazers, and now, she currently serves as GRIT's Community Manager. Nerissa already had her Freedom Chair when she met Kelsom, and it's their shared love of nature and adventure that first connected them.
"We’re both outdoors people. It’s part of why we hit it off and it’s a big part of our continuing relationship."
Did Kelsom have any concerns upon first seeing Nerissa use her Freedom Chair?
As an avid mountain biker, Kelsom was very intrigued when he got to see Nerissa's GRIT Freedom Chair in action for the first time.
"It was one of our first few dates so I wasn’t trying to pry too much, but I was really interested in the build specs; it’s components and such . . . I kind of wanted to have a go at it myself so I could understand better how it operates – the difference between it and a bike . . . My only concern that I had was 'how does it stop.' Being a mountain biker I’m used to disc brake everything."
In spite of his initial concerns, he accompanied Nerissa on a muddy, wet, winter hike in Zion National Park and let her show him how she handled it. After that, he worried less and dreamed bigger.
"I was just excited to see where we could take it!"
What is a typical Freedom Chair outing like for Kelsom and Nerissa?
With Kelsom's mountain bike experience, including the Freedom Chair on outings didn't pose too much of a difference in routine.
"It’s just an outside outing. I unload the Freedom Chair just like I would unload my bike when I go outside. It’s not a whole lot different. It’s pretty standard to deal with (load and unload). A little longer than a standard wheelchair, but we are 'truck people' so that makes it easier. My first downhill mountain bike I’m pretty sure was heavier [than the Freedom Chair]."
Even though Nerissa has to go a little slower than walking pace on steep climbs, Kelsom doesn't mind the gentle pace.
"When I’m hiking I’m taking my time to take things in. Most of the time Nerissa is trying to truck along faster than I want to hike! I’m back there checking things out, and she's going crazy covering ground."
Sometimes, the trails are really steep and Nerissa will ask Kelsom to walk behind her as she climbs as a "spotter."
"Really all I do when I’m helping uphill is preventing her from rolling backwards at all so she can grab the next lever crank . . . I don’t really push. If I do any input at all it’s more like a lift."
How does the Freedom Chair enhance the time Kelsom and Nerissa spend together?
"It lets us go out and do what we love. We go out and be us . . . I feel like we would have been trying the same things but with different equipment so we wouldn’t have had the ability to just enjoy; [we would have been] fumbling with inadequate equipment . . . it wouldn’t have been nearly as effective."
Kelsom has even noticed a visible increase in strength and fitness as Nerissa has continued to use the Freedom Chair.
"I feel like we were kind of out of season when we went on our first outing. After wheeling around all summer she's definitely kicking [butt] and taking names. I would say that her skill level has improved a lot. Not necessarily in coordination, she had the coordination, but she is learning what she and the chair are capable of. I feel like that’s where most of the improvement has been: in trusting the equipment and what it’s capable of."