by: Jenny Schmitz
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is reprinted with permission from the author from Wheelchair Wandering. Jenny lives in Seattle because of its unique offering of mountains, water, culture, and cool weather. She spends as much time as possible enjoying the outdoors. Her passion is travel, which has become a multi-adventure experience since her MS required a transition into a wheelchair.
I had been wanting a good all-terrain wheelchair for a long time. I wanted to get back to the wilderness. Partly because it was something I loved, that made me happy. Partly because it was a huge part of my identity that had been missing for some time (how can you say you like backpacking, if you can no longer do it?). And partly because it was something my friends and family loved, and I wanted to be a part of that.
Approximately two years ago, I received a huge box in the mail -- my new all-terrain Freedom Chair from GRIT. My seated wilderness adventures were about to begin!
There is a learning curve involved with the Freedom Chair. I soon learned where it didn't work for me (tight spaces, airplanes, narrow trails) and where it was a perfect fit (Road trips, airplane stowage, Seattle sidewalks, fire roads, wildlife refuge trails, Rails-to-Trails paths, and wide hiking trails). I learned the chair's quirks and how to overcome them (the levers can't be on when backing up). I also learned how to supplement the advantages of the chair (a willing and able "pusher" helped me to go farther and steeper).
With the Freedom Chair, I have been able to return to the wilderness, doing what I love to do, reclaiming that missing piece in my life and my identity.
EXPERIENCING OTHERWISE-HIDDEN SIGHTS IN THE WILDERNESS
Just as importantly, the Freedom Chair has allowed me to join in and be part of the group.
I have always believed (and this has been strongly re-enforced by a progressive disease) that if there's something that you love to do and you can somehow do, then you should do it now. With disability, the idea of what you can do must be creatively and flexibly supplemented with different ways of doing things and with adaptive tools, such as the Freedom Chair. My next step is to figure out the logistics to go backpacking!