GRIT is—quite literally—powered by its riders. It is their hunger for adventure that keeps us rolling, and we learn everyday through conversations and meetups with owners of the Freedom Chair. The GRIT team knows the chair in and out, but there is nothing more valuable than feedback from our riders. Rider Spotlights allow us to turn our attention to those who matter most. They provide a chance for us to talk closely with our riders, hear some of their stories, and find out what it’s really like to live life beyond the pavement with the GRIT Freedom Chair.
Today, we’re thrilled to highlight Vicki (the rider) and Kennedy (her wife), out of Washington State. Vicki has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and uses her Freedom Chair to carve her way through the gravel, the mud, the beach sand, and whatever else Washington puts in her path—with Kennedy right there with her the whole time.
From Garth Brooks concerts, to tulip festivals, to the Hylebos Wetlands and beyond, Vicki and Kennedy use the Freedom Chair to hike—almost every single weekend.
The GRIT team has been lucky enough to continue communicating with them. Enjoy their story (and check out their wheelchair-hiking guide) below!
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves?
Kennedy and I met on Match.com in August 2017. We traded a few emails and talked for hours on the phone. I told her about my wheelchair and I was impressed that it did not faze her. We then met at Einstein Bros. Bagels here on Mercer Island on September 6, 2017. We loved being able to talk and listen to each other! She obviously leads a busy life, as an analyst, but I like that she is good at telling me when she won’t be available for a bit, because of work deadlines. Her communication skills have been top-dollar from the get-go.
Over the course of the next several months, I arranged for her to experience with me what I coined a Trifecta: A Garth Brooks concert; an overnight at the Alderbrook Resort in Union, Washington; and a Celine Dion concert in Las Vegas.
We fell in love not long after meeting and got engaged about a year and a half ago. We chose to get married at the Hyatt in Southport, Seattle, because it is on Lake Washington and has intense views of the Cascades.
Exploring with GRIT—and “the tribe!”
I also have an amazing caregiver, Terri, who retired from a long career with Microsoft to take care of her mom, who has Alzheimers. Terri is now a CNA who is my exercise therapist; she drives across town five days a week to walk laps of my driveway with me and my walker. She, my tribe (my two sons and Kennedy), and I walked a gorgeous trail called the Hylebos Wetlands that Kennedy knew of because she is a true trail guru. We did this just trail two days before our wedding.
When the GRIT arrived, Kennedy tried it out first by herself, to make sure it was safe for me. We then did numerous trails all over Washington.
I had truly never hiked a trail before I met Kennedy; now if a weekend comes and goes and we don't take on a trail, something seems missing.
A note from GRIT: Not only have Vicki and Kennedy explored a massive number of trails with their Freedom Chair, they’ve documented their findings in an amazing Washington State Trail Guide—and shorter albums from other states, too! Their guides (which you can view by clicking the buttons below) highlight some more information about a wide variety of trails.
How did you find out about GRIT? How did you end up purchasing your Freedom Chair?
I have been in a regular wheelchair for about six years. I have probably had MS since my third year of residency, twenty years ago, but it was pretty quiet until six years ago, when I lost everything all at once (my vision, which fortunately returned), my walking, and my cognition (which forced me into early retirement). I participated in a robot study at Swedish Hospital, which taught me some gait stability.
Kennedy found out about GRIT because she researched the best wheelchairs for trails and came across it. We decided to buy the chair, then met up with Jenny Schmitz [another Freedom Chair owner]. We decided to foot the bill ourselves, because it was that important to us. We appreciated that GRIT offered us no-interest financing.
What does a typical Freedom Chair outing look like for you?
Kennedy does not enjoy paved trails as much as trails with gravel or a boardwalk. She also prefers to be on trails, away from traffic and urban areas. Because she has lived in Seattle for twenty years, she has been out on many, many trails. She has hiked forty-six of now sixty-three national parks. Finding GRIT-friendly trails is pretty easy for her. I, on the other hand, often chat with park rangers to get a sense of GRIT-friendly trails.
What’s your next adventure?
We are going out in a few weeks with friends in Tacoma and I found what sounds like a great GRIT trail by talking with an Adaptive Recreation Director at a local park. [We’re headed to] Fort Steilacoom Park, for what sounds like a great trail!
“Friends in low places?” Not anymore.
I have to laugh (I can finally laugh about this): When Kennedy and I went to the 2017 Garth Brooks concert at the Tacoma Dome (south of Seattle), I was in my regular wheelchair and we hit the railroad track. I was thrown out of my wheelchair.
Kennedy, being the staunch protectorate she is, was HORRIFIED! Because there were a zillion people around, this big burly guy appeared from nowhere and helped lift me back into the chair!
To this day, Kennedy is still traumatized by what happened and feels that this is why she often chooses the GRIT over the regular on a trail. Stability.
When you first got your Freedom Chair, what did you have to figure out, work through, or solve in order to get the best experience with it?
One trail we went on with the GRIT early on was the Schmitz Trail in West Seattle. Kennedy slipped in the mud near a precipice and almost went over the edge with me in the GRIT. She was able to prevent the chair from going over the edge, but it was a rare and truly scary moment. We know more about applying back pressure, which we weren’t good at in the beginning.
Kennedy also loves doing road trips in her Xterra. She loved camping before she met me. I am a bit of a hotel snob; she thinks my idea of roughing it is sleeping in a queen-sized bed
…Am I sad that with my MS there is no way I could get into a tent? Oh, hells no! Not my thing!
It has meant the world to me to be able to give back, which is why the trail guide I designed means so much to me. It is truly not for profit, just a labor of love.
The GRIT team thanks Vicki and Kennedy for taking the time to share some of their adventures and experiences with us. Happy trails!
If you or someone you know has difficulty walking and might be able to put some mud under an all-terrain Freedom Chair of their own, click the button below!