JANUARY 11TH, 2024
BEYOND THE PAVEMENT
by: Nerissa Dawn Cannon
Nerissa is one of GRIT’s original Trailblazers! Her journey with chronic illness has made her very passionate about helping other people get the most out of life despite a disabling condition.
***Editor’s Note: Since the initial posting of this article, the Trailblazer Program has been replaced with our Ambassador Program. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. For other funding options please visit our Financing Page.***
When I started experiencing progressive and debilitating physical symptoms around the time I turned 24, I wasn’t quite sure what the rest of my life would look like. I had always been very active, particularly enjoying outdoor activities, and I saw everything I loved being taken away from me. I had to leave the job I had at the time because I couldn’t safely and adequately perform my duties anymore. I was waiting for answers and treatment for my illness, but doctors remained baffled. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t wait anymore. I didn’t want to miss out on life and all it had to offer, so I started to research adaptive outdoor athletics. During this research period, I discovered the GRIT Freedom Chair.
I came across the GRIT Freedom Chair around the time they started offering a model in the USA. Immediately, I was impressed with the simplicity of the design and all that the rider could accomplish within that design. It seemed such a simple yet ingenious device, combining the basics of a bicycle with the function of a wheelchair. However, with my employment struggles and the fact that I was still undiagnosed, I had little in the way of access to funds to acquire the chair. I joined the mailing list and stalked GRIT’s website and Facebook page for about a year. I was eager to watch the development and hear from other riders. I was determined I would get the funds to acquire one eventually! Lucky for me, that day came sooner than even I anticipated!
Due to actively stalking GRIT’s media outlets, I became aware of their “Trailblazer Program.” An individual could apply to receive a Freedom Chair FREE for one year in exchange for testing it and taking photos and writing blog posts on our experiences with it! I immediately knew I had to apply, but, to be honest, I had little expectation that I’d be chosen. I’d been denied similar opportunities because I was still undiagnosed, and I could still walk short distances. I expected GRIT would want someone who was a full-time wheelchair user and who had a diagnosed disability. To my utter shock and delight, I was 1 of 10 Trailblazers chosen to participate in the program!
Eagerly, I embarked on my journey with my GRIT Freedom Chair! The first thing those around me noticed was how much happier I was. I have battled Chronic Depression for many years, but being able to once again get outside so easily and often did wonders for my mental health. I pushed the chair’s limits, going where no wheelchair had dared go before! The GRIT Freedom Chair allowed me to walk two large dogs in a rural area very successfully for months! Something I couldn’t have accomplished otherwise. I enjoyed that people saw me in the GRIT Freedom Chair as someone taking on life and enjoying myself, rather than someone to be pitied (which I often get in my standard wheelchair). The support and friendship I was shown by the GRIT Team throughout that time was always above and beyond what I expected. The months after first acquiring my Freedom Chair were filled with so many amazing adventures and experiences that I never even dreamed I would be able to have again.
As I knew the Trailblazer program period was drawing to a close, I was a little sad, but mostly just unbelievably grateful for the experiences I had. It was at this time I saw GRIT announce that they had a couple of job openings. Living in Southern Utah at the time, I thought, “Oh I wish I could! But even if they wanted to hire me, I couldn’t move to Boston.” However, my original plans for summer work had fallen through, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do at the time. With the push of a dear friend, I submitted my application for the Administrative Assistant Position. Even over the 3 weeks while I waited to be contacted for an interview, I was trying to talk myself out of it, LOL! However, after my interview, something just felt right. To my great surprise, I was offered the job! I then had to plan a cross-country move in only 2 weeks! This was the beginning of an amazing journey!
This whole journey is still very surreal! Going from stalking GRIT’s Facebook page and dreaming about one day having one of my own, but having ZERO clue as to how I’d pay for it, to now being in the headquarters, helping to advise new and potential riders, assisting with putting chairs together, and being a participant in product development meetings, it’s like a dream come true! I found a place that celebrates my unique perspective and values what I have to offer. I work in a place that warmly welcomes my service dog. I’m able to spend the majority of my waking hours working hard at work worth doing, work that makes a difference, and more than anything, that’s what I wanted to find in my life. I feel truly honored to be where I am. I hope to be a part of the GRIT team for a very long time.