Category Archives: Adapting Equipment

Over The Edge – Literally

Being lifted into place

Being lifted into place

Looking down at the floor of the roof in front I saw some items that, even though it had been over 20 years, their names came rushing to me. Prussik loop, spectra cord, a Figure Eight on a bight and a couple of daisy chains. These were things I had used extensively in the 1990s, when I ran a challenge course for the local school district where I taught. My mind began drifting back to that time. Climbing and rappelling were part of most days when I would be hosting one of the grades from the school. I could remember the feelings of freedom, self-control and exhilaration as I controlled my descent to the ground. Suddenly a loud voice broke my daydreaming and I was quickly brought back to reality. It was June 9, 2018 and I was being prepared to rappel off a 16-story building in Watertown New York.

Three years ago, my good friend and colleague, Steve Robinson had gone Over the Edge (OTE) as part of an annual fundraiser for the United Way of Northern New York. He dedicated his fundraising efforts to me because he knew I would be doing it if I could and nobody thought I would ever rappel again. His effort got me thinking and I began to wonder if maybe I could do it. I knew there would be lots of issues and lots of reasons to say no, but I decided to try. To my surprise the two major organizations involved, the United Way and the people from Over the Edge, were very receptive. Over the past 19 years I had become used to people telling me there was no way I could do this or that.

The rappel today was going to be different. Not only was there new hardware like the RIP descender, but I was going to be doing it in my wheelchair. I felt this was an opportunity to pay back to the people of the community that had given so much to my wife and I over the past 19 years. The United Way donates money to a number of charities and local groups. I also hope my going Over the Edge would remind everybody that we are all capable of doing much more than we think we can. That lesson has been driven home to me time and time again since I became quadriplegic.

Rappelling down Midtown Towers

Rappelling down Midtown Towers


Family members and most of my friends truly thought this was crazy. Why, many of them asked, place yourself in this risky situation? None of them realized the risk was totally perceptional. My descent would be one of the safest things I have ever done. With the help of several skilled professionals and soldiers from the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club from Fort Drum I was prepared and placed into position for my descent. Because of my limited range of motion another person would be going with me to help facilitate a smooth descent.

As I began my way down I happened to glance a few blocks away and notice an individual sitting in a wheelchair watching me. I could only wonder what they were thinking, but I found myself wanting to yell to him “It all starts with a dream.”

In closing, I would like to recognize the people who helped make this possible Bob Gorman of United Way, Robert Pitkin of Over The Edge, Les Brook of Marra”s Homecare, Bruce Wright of Guilfoyle Ambulance, my good friend Steve Robinson and all who donated the United Way of NNY.

Museum of Failure

“The Museum of Failure is a one of a kind international collection of more than 100 innovation failures. For every successful product corporations put on the market, there are many failures behind it.”

The other night, while watching the nightly news, I saw a report on the opening of the Museum of Failure in Sweden. It’s about time. There are many displays in the Museum include the Ford Edsel, Google Glasses and Colgate Kitchen Entrees to mention a few, but without a doubt, my favorite is Harley Davidson Perfume. While the Museum is devoted to failed innovations made by famous corporations, there are however still many lessons to be learned here about failure in general.

Harley Davidson Perfume

Harley Davidson Perfume

Marlboro Ice Cream

Marlboro Ice Cream

When speaking to groups the concept of failure is something that I try to encourage all people to understand better. It is important to remember that an individual’s attitudes and reactions to failure are learned. That is easily proven by looking at a young child learning to walk. Toddlers have no concept of failure. Imagine if they did and decided after standing and falling many times, it wasn’t worth the effort to keep trying. Obviously, they would never learn to walk. One Sunday night while watching an interview on 60 Minutes with Lebron James the interviewer asked him if he could give one piece of advice to young children watching what would it be. Without hesitation, he responded “Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Speaking to a group

Speaking to a group

When I was young I often looked at failure as an end in itself. It greatly affected my interactions in just about every aspect of my life. Venturing into a situation where the possibility of failure was great was carefully weighed. Even when I began teaching I was hesitant to try new and different ways to reach and involve my students. Fortunately, after being frustrated by what I perceived as an inability to engage all my students, I began trying new and different methods and strategies. Some were successful, and some weren’t, but learning was taking place in both cases.

For any individual, especially those with a disability, I believe it is critical to look at failure not as an end, but rather an opportunity to learn, grow and move on.
Many individuals who are disabled have some type of compromise of motor skills. It’s not the loss of the coordination that is the problem, it is the loss of the skills associated with it. However, those skills can be replaced! A society usually has a few accepted ways of accomplishing an activity (i.e. Catching a fish). However, looking at all societies there are a tremendous number of other ways developed to accomplish the same or similar activity. If attempts to develop a new skill fails and that is accepted as a final result anybody would have a hard time moving on. On the other hand, if failure is looked at as a temporary outcome to be learned from and grow, the chances of developing the new skills necessary in an individual’s life become possible. So, don’t let failure prevent you continuing from persisting to progress. Start looking at failure as an opportunity.

Oh, and the Museum of Failure is such a great success it’s going on tour.

An Asset For Improving Your Life

The Amazon Echo is one of those products made for able-bodied people, that has the potential to improve the lives of thousands in the disabled community. The Echo is available in 3 three different models and I assume more features are found in the larger sizes. The Echo Dot is the smallest and least expensive at $50 yet it provides everything most would want. Once plugged in, connected to your Wi-Fi and programmed the Dot becomes a tremendous asset. In order to set it up you must download the Amazon Alexa App, which is free, to your iPhone or iPad. Then, verbally you can speak to Alexa the Echo’s voice and she will perform many simple daily tasks. She can give you the local weather, a news update, play any kind of music you may be interested in, but her abilities far exceed those simple chores. She is able to read any book found on Kindle or Audible. You can have her wake you up every morning to either an alarm or music. Alexa can play soft music while you fall asleep and then shut herself off at a predetermined time. She can also be used as a timer by telling her the time duration you want her to set up. You can make shopping and to-do lists and then transfer them to your iPhone. You can even order directly from Amazon. While, I have not used it, it is my understanding that the Echo also enables you to call and speak with other individuals who also have an Echo.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

However, for one with a disability, the Echo’s most useful features is the ability to turn your home into a Smart Home. A variety of Smart equipment is available, at very reasonable costs, which will allow you to take control of most of your appliances and devices verbally. I now have the ability, through Alexa, to turn off and on my CPAP machine as well as the lights in the bedroom. There are Smart Plug-in Outlets, Smart Wall Switches, Smart Door Locks, Smart Thermostats and even accessories that will let you control your television with Alexa. For those of us with range of motion issues, poor dexterity or limited mobility the Echo Dot provides an inexpensive yet simple, convenient way for many to take greater control of their home environment with only your voice.

Amazon is constantly increasing the ability of the Echo to perform tasks. These improvements, unlike those with computers, do not have to be downloaded into the unit itself. Instead the new program is uploaded to the Cloud and is instantly available to your Echo.

Dreams Really Can Come True

The light, from the full moon, was twinkling off the water as we slid our kayaks into the lake. We had paddled here many times before, but there was always something special when paddling under a full moon. The small little lake hidden off an old road in Jefferson County, was absolutely beautiful. It was probably close to midnight when we loaded the kayaks back on the truck and headed for home. Little did I realize that the time it would be many years before I would return.

Marge

Marge

After my accident in 1999 I wondered if I would ever go back and paddle on this lake again. In my mind, I set it as a goal not knowing if it was even realistic. In the rehabilitation hospital in 1999 I read a quote in a book written by Christopher Reeve. It had a tremendous impact on my attitude toward my own rehabilitation. Reeve said:

“I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I will live my life. I don’t mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery.”

I began kayaking again in 2003. We had to start from scratch. No information was available on quadriplegics kayaking. Progress was slow. It took a group of people for me to go at all; as a result, I only got out a couple times a year. So improvements and adaptions were slow. Once I even tipped the kayak over and since I was completely strapped in and my hands strapped on the paddle would have drowned if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of two members of my “entourage”. Despite all of that, progress moved ahead, first pontoons, next a stadium seat whose back was raised by a local machinist, chest laterals were added and after much additional tweaking during my one paddle last year I decided everything was stable enough to go for my goal. Through all these years I was paddling on a large pond owned by good friends of ours. But in the back of my mind always was the dream to return to Payne Lake.

Steve fishing for bass

Steve fishing for bass

Yesterday, I awoke from the dream, many times in our lives, we imagine certain events happening and when they do they fall far short of the scenario that had been created in our mind. Yesterday the experience exceeded everything that I had hoped for. We paddled for several hours. My wife and I together on the water for the first time in over 18 years. The lake whose aesthetics I could only dream of were more imposing in person. By sheer accident, I paddled up on a heron, which I was unaware of, until I was almost on top of her. We watched her fly from spot to spot and even saw her catch a small fish. My friend Steve, without whose help I would not do half of the things I do, had a bass launch out of the lily pads to take his lure, but it slipped the hook during some aerial acrobatics. I live for opportunities like this.

What a special day.

What a special day.


The moral of the story is don’t stop dreaming. Dreams really can come true if you continue to work on them and refuse to give up.

I’ll Try Again

Turkey season in upstate New York has been open for a week now. I’ve been able to get out five days and have probably averaged about 5 1/2 hours of hunting time each day. Since the season began I have seen only three hens and they were quite a ways away. It’s much more difficult to hunt turkeys during the fall season. In the spring, both the hens and gobblers are moving most of the day. Hens wander off each day to lay an egg in their secluded nest and then returned to the Toms. After they have a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs they begin nesting and the gobblers start moving around looking for a female to breed. This makes them very susceptible to calling.

In the fall turkeys follow eating habits and rarely call to each other. So, it is extremely difficult to call them into range. The technique, able-bodied hunters use, is to move quickly through the woods until signs are found that the turkeys are near and then try to call them in. This is so difficult that many able-bodied hunters don’t bother hunting turkeys in the fall.

Waiting

Waiting

My friend Andy likes to say we are going to be sitting in our chairs all day anyway, so we might as well enjoy what we’re doing. It is that philosophy that takes me to the blind most days in the fall. Today was an exceptionally special day and I would like to share some of the “events” that nature chose to share with me. The blind I went to today is on the west side of a field that runs north and south. It was unusual that I arrived there around 9 o’clock as that’s quite early for me. The sun was coming up directly in front of me and treated me to several special sights. A heavy dew was on the grass in the field and the sunlight reflected off it looking like 1000 little twinkles. I was also aware that more than half of the field was covered with shadows created by the trees in the hedgerow across from me. While I was watching the shadows slowly grew smaller, but what was really wild was watching them move to my left as the sun slowly arced to my right. Neither of these was a fast process and you could almost see the shadows move slowly.

By noon I was getting extremely warm and began to be concerned about overheating. This process can lead to autonomic dyslexia, which can be a life-threatening emergency. I decided to leave. When I got home it was 76° and I knew I had made the right choice. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, but Sunday is forecast to be sunny and in the mid-50s. There’s still a week of the season left and because I love being out so much I’ll try again.

Young gobbler walked by this blind shortly before season

Young gobbler walked by this blind shortly before season

Chairbound Sportsman

For an outdoors-man who becomes disabled and ultimately wheelchair-bound the struggle to regain quality-of-life can be overwhelming. New skills must be developed, in spite of compromised abilities, in order to return to the lifestyle they love. But, while daunting, the development of new skills to replace the old ones lost is within their grasp if they persevere and refuse to accept failure as an outcome.

The higher the level of injury the greater the challenge. We are just beginning to see the development of new types of recreational wheelchairs, both manual and power, being developed for those who want to return to the outdoor life. Four-wheel-drive and track wheelchairs are becoming more widely available. However, in spite of these changes, especially with an activity like hunting, chances of returning to the solitary hunting lifestyle will be nearly impossible.

Even with these new, highly specialized chairs there is still the need for additional help from other able-bodied individuals. In order to hunt, an individual in a chair will also need some type of support system. For many individuals who become disabled the loss of self-sufficiency and self-reliance is one of the most difficult issues for them to face, which makes asking for help difficult.

Hunting requirements are very different depending on the region of the United States. Prior to my accident, I hunted in many states along the East Coast. Shots are rarely taken over 150 yards and in most areas you’re never far from civilization. While I have never hunted west of the Mississippi River I’ve received quite a bit of information from my friend Andy Dahmen, who lives in Utah, and has also hunted in Idaho and Wyoming. This fall he shot a bull elk that was over 560 yards away. The distance of the shots, the vast amounts of terrain that must be covered and the size of the animals harvested all demand a greater support system for a hunter out West. In the East you can usually get by with a friend or two, but out West is a different story.

Russian Boar harvested in Idaho

Russian Boar harvested in Idaho


Hunting out West for an individual who is in a wheelchair requires a number of able-bodied individuals to assist. Fortunately, there are people who understand and have formed volunteer organizations to assist the disabled. One of these groups the Utah chapter of Chairbound Hunters is titled Chairbound Sportsman. I have taken their Mission statement verbatim off their website so you can understand what these individuals are trying to do.

“We create hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities for wheelchair bound individuals and Disabled Veterans. Outdoor Activities are hard enough, but retrieving game, is next to impossible. With our volunteers, we can help with the hard stuff and make their outings a success. Our Goal is to offer experiences to those that thought they could never get into the outdoors again. Volunteers, Landowners and Sponsors are Critical to our success.”

Getting Ready to Roll

Getting Ready to Roll


It is difficult for many individuals to understand what their kindness and thoughtfulness means to the participant. Without the support from others, many in the disabled community would be unable to participate in the activities that provide for our quality of life. Handihelp does not accept advertisement on the website. I would, however, recommend either volunteering or make a donation to keep organizations like these functioning.

An Awesome Winter Day

I’m always looking for something different to do that will get me outside this time of year. The last couple years I went for a dog sled ride, but was hoping to do something different this winter. Imagine my surprise when two neighbors invited me to go ice fishing. I was excited not only for doing something different, but it also gave me the opportunity to work on adapting the equipment I would need to be successful. I’ve gotten to the point where I really enjoy the challenge of how to adapt the equipment so that I can use it. Add to this the anticipation of being outdoors in this weather as well as looking forward to a challenge.

IceFishing

IceFishing

Sunday, January 31 was the day. They went early and set everything up and then my son Mark drove to Lake of the Isles where we were going to fish. My Extreme X8 handled the ice really well. When we got there Tom and John helped set up my pole and get me started. Even though the temperature was around 42 there was a stiff breeze. We set up outside and fished for a while. After I caught some perch we decided to go in the ice hut where there was a heater. We also fished in the tent. Inside the tent you could see all the way to the bottom 10’-12’ down and watch the fish swim around.

Got a Bite

Got a Bite

What a great day! Spending time with friends, who love the out-of-doors as much as I do, is awesome. Add to that the sense of the peace, quiet and serenity and it was unreal, especially in the tent. I’m a lucky man!

Unreal

Unreal

Out on the Ice

Out on the Ice