When I lost the use of my legs, I thought I had also lost the wilderness in my life. With a concentrated effort of creativity and flexibility, along with a good dose of humility, I found my way back into camping again. After years of experimentation and adaptation, I finally found a set-up that works for me.
For an outdoor enthusiast like myself, the allure of a National Park is hard to resist. The National Park Service preserves natural, cultural, and historical sites all across the United States. Some of the most breathtaking landscapes are within these park boundaries. Thankfully, the National Park Service has taken it upon themselves to offer a FREE lifetime pass for US Citizens that have a permanent disability. It allows you to be admitted for FREE to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.
“I refuse to live in a world that was not designed to me. I’ve spent my life looking for the right equipment that will allow me to do what I want to do. The [GRIT] Freedom Chair is about being able to do that.”
“How freeing it is to take control of your body and become active. When you are disabled you have limitations, but I know that for me I’ve surpassed so many limitations by challenging myself and doing things I never thought would be possible and going outside the boundaries. It’s such a great feeling, and I want others to have that.”
The great thing about the outdoors is that no matter what time of the year it is, there is always something to do. Sometimes you have to adapt to the weather or the temperature in order to properly enjoy things, though. Luckily, my GRIT Freedom Chair is a versatile, all terrain wheelchair. It allows me to enjoy all types of activities no matter what the seasons throw at me.
"The biggest thing is being able to go off road. To just get off the pavement and go somewhere . . . For me, everything is a new challenge. Are you gonna get good at it, or are you give up? I’m gonna get good at it!"
One of my favorite features of the Freedom Chair is how seamlessly it transitions from outdoors to indoors. The Freedom Chair has been designed to fit into all ADA accessible spaces. This means you can go about your day, and tackle whatever crosses your path with only one piece of equipment!
"Playing in the park with my grandson [is] just the best . . . [He's] just shy of 3 years old. If it were not for this chair, I could not have taken the trip through the Garden with my family. Feeling very blessed and grateful."
While the GRIT Freedom Chair gives you the opportunity to move beyond the pavement, you don’t have to go very far off the pavement to find an adventure. Sometimes the best adventures can be had right in your own backyard – or at least very near to that!
“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.”
John McConnell, a 14-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska, used the GRIT Freedom Chair to help fulfill his wish to participate in the reenactment of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, commemorating the start of the American Revolution.
"I like nature. It was very frustrating that I could not get out. When I got my chair it was amazing, I got back my Freedom. You can get out and do it! One trick in photography is making sure you are steady, with the wheelchair I can lock it up and I have my steadying post right there. It gives me the Freedom to go out there. "
"It’s priceless to me. I can’t drive, and just to have that little extra sense of speed seems to make some type of difference. I don’t feel 'disabled' in it. I feel enabled. I do feel empowered . . . Things I would put off, now that I’m in my chair, I’m OK. It’s like a modern day chariot. I get tons of compliments on it from the bus driver to people on the street.
“We went on a hike in the White Cedar Swamp walk in the Marconi Station National Park area. This was the hardest trail I have attempted and, except for some railroad tie steps that my sons and son-in-law gave me an assist, I was able to get through it without difficulty. We like to be ‘memory makers’ for our kids and grand kids and being able to do this with them rather than sitting back at the house was fabulous. “
"My favorite thing are the beach wheels and being able to go out onto the sand by myself, doing that by myself. Not having to have somebody push me or carry me out there . . . It's really nice to push myself on the beach. The chair makes a huge difference."
We camped at Snaring River, where the only sites available were a couple of walk-in sites. We grabbed one and used my wheelchair to help carry the large and heavy car camping gear. After several trips down a medium-packed gravel path, we ended up enjoying what was probably our best – most private and best view, not far from a flowing river – campsite of the trip.
It's not just our Freedom Chair Riders that are a part of the GRIT Family. The Freedom Chair experience extends to our riders' loved ones as well. We wanted to highlight those Trail Buddies who accompany our riders on their adventures, and hear about how the Freedom Chair has helped their loved ones. Today's Trail Buddy Spotlight is Kelsom Owens.
When I first started riding my GRIT Freedom Chair, it certainly made a lot of things easier in my life. However, I'm the type of person to push the limits of myself and my equipment, and it wasn't long at all before I was setting my sights on loftier summits.
"The first weekend I had it I went down to the park, and it was great because I could push around. Some of the trails are gravel and some of them are dirt, but it let me get out and enjoy the fresh air again . . . "Just leaving the pavement; simple things like just going in my backyard . . . This is the best chair I’ve found that can do that."
Tyler Rich is an active 25 year old living with Spastic Diplegic Cerebral Palsy. He began participating in obstacle course races after receiving his Freedom Chair, and the activity took on a life of it's own. After logging over 50 official race miles in 2017, Tyler is impressed with the durability of his GRIT Freedom Chair: "The fact that I have been so rough on it and it still works as well as the day I got it is impressive."
The ground was uneven in places and had a thick covering of grass and stones. The Freedom Chair with its levers gave me the ability to move around and get close up to take photos. Carrying my camera gear, a tripod and cell phone was tricky, but I managed to make it work. My chair was a muddy mess, but I loved every minute of it. I am excited by all the possibilities this opens for me, and I look forward to sharing my adventures with you.
We were drawn to the famous "larch march," this year. We drove to Rainy Pass in the Northern Cascades, where a hike to Rainy Lake took us through temperate rainforest, fall colors, chilly temperatures, and patches of snow from a recent snowstorm to a mountain lake surrounded by more fall colors, high mountains, and -- far away -- views of golden larches.
Those of us who use manual wheelchairs are often forced to accept certain environmental limitations. Whether it’s broken pavement on a sidewalk, missing curb cuts, steep hills, or simply rough terrain, necessity forces wheelchair users to become experts at navigation. On the flip side, however, new accessible technology also means that these types of challenges can be overcome. More specifically, thanks to the dedicated work of a group of engineers, there’s now a wheelchair designed especially for off-road terrain: the GRIT Freedom Chair.
I hadn’t been there in years. My last memories there were with my sidekick of a dog running through the woods down to the stream and crawling through the piney hills. This time I was prepared with my Green Machine, and my faithful sidekicks. There were smooth pine covered trails with some nice big roots here and there (I’ve grown to love the rooty, rocky stuff in this chair! Feels good climbing through tight spots on my wheels. Mini victories every time!). The woods were fairly open which allowed me to truly get off trail. I smashed through some dry underbrush and poked around like the “good ol’ days”.
Now I had a piece of equipment that in many instances could put me on an equal playing field with an able-bodied person. Now I could take myself INTO nature again instead of simply observing from the sidelines. I hope to be an example to show that people with mobility challenges WANT to come into nature.