Freedom Chair riders aren't just our customers - they're part of the GRIT family. Today's Rider Spotlight features Nico Serra. Read on to learn about his adventures!
“I have so much independence. I really can go almost anywhere and do almost anything.”
Nico was GRIT’s first Pay-it-Forward Grant recipient! Six years ago, this Portland, Oregon resident was struck by a car and dragged while riding his bicycle. With a combination of inadequate medical care and a genetic disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome-- which affects tissues and joints-- his body hasn’t been able to fully recover.
It’s been a long struggle for Nico. Now 35, he has undergone three shoulder surgeries and a hip surgery. Nico uses a permanent splint on his hand and wrist and suffers from constant pain in his neck and back. In addition, due to his Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, the arches are falling in his feet making it difficult, sometimes impossible, to walk.
Before his accident, the self-proclaimed “outdoor junkie” would hike up to 15 miles per day as a wilderness guide for students who suffer from addictions. Together, they would rock climb, mountain bike or go whitewater rafting as part of their therapy. In more recent years, being confined to his home and primarily using a power chair to get around, he had been unable to enjoy the freedom of being outside.
Nico first saw the Freedom Chair in a video online, and then he and his partner searched on the web to learn more.
“As soon as I saw it I thought ‘Oh, I need one of these!’ We both thought it would give me a lot of independence, and so we just went for it. We thought the worst thing that could happen is that they say ‘no’ and we wasted time on an application.”
Nico was, indeed, selected as the first recipient of the Pay It Forward Low Income Grant. Upon receiving his chair, he told KOIN 6 News:
“I’m just totally thrilled and, yeah, getting a little teared up because it’s just an amazing gift. I’m really excited because I could have never afforded this on my own.”
WHAT ACTIVITIES DOES NICO ENJOY DOING IN THE FREEDOM CHAIR?
Since receiving his GRIT Freedom Chair, Nico has taken to the outdoors once again, enjoying some hikes and the beach. He has also been using his Freedom chair a lot for various local protests and marches, as well as just daily getting around. Prior to receiving the GRIT Freedom Chair, Nico used a powered wheelchair to get around. Now, though, he gets around under his own power using the lever drive system! Even going to the book store is huge. It's a little tough to get on the bus, but it's easy to get in and out of the car and he has a car now.
WHAT IS NICO’S FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE FREEDOM CHAIR?
Nico is an advocate in the Portland community who raises awareness for those with disabilities to create more accessible buildings. He says:
“The GRIT Freedom Chair [allows] me to go to the park down the street, a place that was previously not accessible to me. The chair really embodies the idea that everyone should have access to the outdoors.”
Nico loves that he doesn’t have to ask people to push him. He finds this especially helpful during travel. He loves being able to navigate an airport under his own power, rather than relying on an attendant that might leave him stranded in a bathroom. He looks forward to more travelling in the future now that he has this added independence.
Spreading his story of what the Freedom Chair has given to his life, Nico encourages anyone interested to give it a go:
"It's 90% more efficient, it doesn't destroy your joints, and if you can't afford to pay for one yourself you can apply for a grant like I did."