Freedom Chair riders aren't just our customers—they're part of the GRIT family. Today's Rider Spotlight features Helen Sabo. Read on to learn about her adventures!
"It’s been such a mood lifter to be able to be outside . . . I went to the park and there were several areas where there were lips or drops and it didn’t slow me down at all."
In 2009, while training for the Susan G. Koman 3-Day Walk walk, Helen noticed her feet started hurting. She tried new shoes, but it didn't help. It turned into a situation where she couldn't walk very far without pretty severe pain. Her neuropathy now affects her whole body, but is the worst in her feet. Fibromyalgia and chronic autoimmune conditions caused her to have to quit working.
Helen started using a wheelchair for mobility in her day-to-day life, but she found it difficult to maintain her previous activities.
"I live in a neighborhood that, while hilly, is a very walkable neighborhood and people are always outside walking. For years, I haven’t gone out into the neighborhood because it’s just not fun in a regular wheelchair; it’s not safe. It can get a little scary to go too fast and my brakes are my hands, and that’s hard even with gloves on. There’s a lot of unevenness going from the street to curb or sidewalk just because it’s so old. In my regular wheelchair I would get thrown out when my chair stops suddenly."
She also found that she tired easily, even using her ultralight. Her husband often had to push her. She thought she may reluctantly have to look into a powered option.
“This illness has taken away my ability to walk distances, but I’m not ready to say ‘give me a scooter’ and be done.”
Why did Helen decide on the GRIT Freedom Chair?
After discovering the GRIT Freedom Chair online, Helen signed up for the newsletter. This prompted a team member to reach out personally.
"I looked at it for a really long time . . . [They] reached out . . . She sent a very nice email . . . and offered the financing. Fortunately, I didn’t need to do that but it was just a nice offer . . . I asked her because I do have issues with my shoulder ), if I could have 6 weeks instead of 30 days to try it out - I needed less than 30 days."
Helen has felt a noticeable improvement in her ability to be safely active since getting her Freedom Chair.
"With my Tilite it’s a balance of 'do I exhaust myself from using the chair, or do I have intense pain from walking.' I find that doesn’t happen with the Freedom Chair. I’ve been getting so much stronger and that’s been building my endurance."
What activities does Helen enjoy doing in her GRIT Freedom Chair?
Helen enjoys simply being able to get out and about on her own now that she has her Freedom Chair.
“The biggest change for has been able to go outside on my own . . . in my freedom chair, today I went to the park and there were several areas where there were lips or drops and it didn’t slow me down at all.”
Travelling to Arizona is a tradition for Helen and her husband. The Freedom Chair has allowed that trip to be even more enjoyable. On a recent visit she had an opportunity to have an encounter with a tiger cub.
"We were at this little zoo in Arizona. We were just bopping around looking at the animals. They pulled up in a van. A guy came out and said, 'I have kind of a really strange thing to ask you. Would you mind helping us get our tiger cub used to being around a wheelchair?' Tigers are usually afraid of wheelchairs. So, they brought him out on a leash and let him look at it and had me roll around and let him hear what it sounds like. I was glad to have the levers because I could grip on them and not touch the tiger when I wasn’t supposed to. That was one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done."
She sees even more adventures in their future!
"Now that I can get around better that will open up areas we can vacation. I am really looking forward to visiting National Parks."
What is Helen's favorite thing about the GRIT Freedom Chair?
Helen enjoys watching her physical strength progressing the more she uses her Freedom Chair.
"The very first time I used the Freedom Chair I was a little discouraged. At first you are using your arms to move your body weight and that takes strength. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to even keep it . . . [but] I’ve been getting so much stronger and that’s been building my endurance. . . . if you try to push too hard too soon you are gonna hate it, but if you can take it slowly and give yourself the time and space to get used to it it can open up an amazing range of activities that you would never imagine were accessible to someone using a wheelchair.”
Joining the rider-only Facebook group has also been very encouraging for Helen on her journey.
"Everyone should join the Facebook group! It’s so inspiring! It’s encouraging to see how you could get to the point where you could do something like that in this chair."