Freedom isn’t just a one-time weekend outing—it doesn’t stop when Monday rolls around or where the sidewalk ends. However you define it, freedom is most definitely better when shared with the ones you love. This is the case with Marie and Allen Holloway, a mother-and-son duo who both own Freedom Chairs! They’ve used their chairs to explore all kinds of adventure through their local stomping grounds, nearby Star Wars festivals, five-or-more-mile family excursions; they’ve even taken to the skies to attend a California convention center with a Freedom Chair in tow.
The GRIT team is thrilled to have Marie and Allen in the Freedom Chair family, and lucky enough to share some of their story with you here, in our latest Rider Spotlight!
About Marie and Allen
Marie, who spent four years in the US Military, has been active her whole life. She loves going for walks, hikes, and “just getting out there.” Marie and her husband made it a point to encourage their son, Allen, to be active as well; Marie says she “always taught her family to be moving.” Marie and Allen were both diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS)—Marie’s symptoms began progressing in her adult life.
Allen, Marie’s son, has struggled his whole life with low energy and a series of other hard-to-explain issues. As a child, Allen would grow so weak that his mother and father would have to carry him. Eventually, Allen was given the same Ehlers-Danlos diagnosis as his mother, in addition to multiple Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs), and metabolic issues. Despite these diagnoses, Marie says Allen always puts an A+ effort into life. He is enthralled by various kinds of engineering and mathematics and aspires to be a teacher someday.
Why did Marie and Allen decide on the Freedom Chair?
Once carrying Allen was no longer an option, Marie started an internet search for durable wheelchairs. The first device that came up was the GRIT Freedom Chair, but she diligently explored the market in pursuit of a chair that would work best for her son. To make the search even more difficult, she received kickback from her insurance company, who told her, “He can walk sometimes, so why does he need a wheelchair?”
Marie knew that Allen would need a custom headrest to be successful in any chair. Allen suffers from positional headaches, so it was extremely important that he had the necessary head support to prevent them. Marie discussed the positioning requirements with the GRIT sales team, who coordinated with GRIT engineers to develop an ideal headrest for Allen.
Knowing how interested Allen was in engineering and mathematics, Marie passed his design ideas on to GRIT, and our engineers found ways to incorporate that feedback into the final headrest. Marie said that after these conversations and her own research, “Everything about the Freedom Chair just screamed what we wanted.”
What are Marie and Allen’s favorite things about the GRIT Freedom Chair?
The Holloways say that pushing each other in the Freedom Chair is “almost effortless compared to regular wheelchairs.” The easy pushing allows them to safely navigate longer excursions without burning too much valuable energy. In fact, they occasionally add weight to their chair. Marie says, “In Arizona it’s easy to go rock hunting! Some of these are pure white and the size of a pumpkin. We stuff rocks all over the footplate.”
Of course, they chose the chair for other reasons, too. Marie adds:
When I was looking at wheelchairs and saw the expense of one with good back support, and wheels that would last, and easy to transport, and different things . . . The ones that folded were flimsy. When I looked at the amount of quality that went into the Freedom Chair, I looked at other chairs that had half the bells and whistles and they were twice the price.
I wanted to look at a sustainable, one-shot-cost wheelchair instead of having to replace batteries (or the whole thing) all of the time. Even with all the other expenses we have, we knew this investment was good. When I looked at the Freedom Chair, everything was solid and simplistic but the quality was there. On top of that I could instantly go more places in the chair.
I could not find a reason to not do the investment. Those other chairs were almost always twice as expensive as the Freedom Chair. It is a simple concept but pretty durable so far.
Did Marie and Allen have any concerns once they had their Freedom Chairs?
Even with the chair, Marie and Allen’s physical challenges often make it difficult to go for long hikes or walks. “Some days,” Marie says, “Allen cannot use the chair. We are realistic about that.” However, the strength in Allen’s arms lasts far longer than his legs, so they started training immediately upon receiving the chair and have worked together to make the best of every outing.
Allen says there was a bit of a learning curve to figuring out the levers, specifically what force was required to accomplish each movement. He adapted quickly though—so quickly, in fact, that he said “For the most part, it was automatic.”
What is a typical Freedom Chair outing like for Marie and Allen?
One of the GRIT team’s favorite things about Marie and Allen is that there doesn’t seem to be just one kind of “typical outing” for them. These two riders find every opportunity to get outside, stay moving, and pursue adventure whenever they can.
Near home, this duo has conquered local trails, parks, rocky pathways, gravel, and long traverses through the San Pedro Valley in Arizona. They even rolled/walked two miles together into town to attend a local Star Wars festival.
In spring 2019, Allen and Marie flew together with a Freedom Chair to a conference in California. About the adventure, Marie said:
[It was our] first trip with no help from a “healthy” person—we have immune issues also and most of our luggage was food. It was a huge success thanks to the chair!!! Allen did so well (very rare) that he was able to use the walker-back of the chair and give me a break when I couldn't walk.
How do Freedom Chairs enhance the time Marie and Allen spend together?
While Marie and Allen can both walk for short distances, they both eventually need to sit down for a break. What they’ll often do is take one chair out—Marie will push from behind until she needs a break, and they’ll then switch positions. The Freedom Chair has given them the ability to go out for longer distances, on more challenging walks, and to generally spend more time with each other.
About one of their recent trips, Marie says:
We went out about 6 miles! Now we ALL can go for that 5-6 mile walk. [My husband] Dave has a few pictures. Our ultimate goal is to get back on the trails. We lived five years in Germany and I wished I had a wheelchair. Allen used to push himself but he would then be bedridden 2-3 weeks.
Now we can go out and get fresh air and meet people. We are starting to get out there more than we are trapped in. To be able to go on different terrains! Going on the grass at the park. Who wants to stay on the sidewalk?!