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.
Our latest Rider Spotlight focuses on Mike B, an author, father, husband, and Freedom Chair rider from Virginia. Mike uses his chair for archery, shooting, exercise, and—soon—trips to the beach; his deliberate fitness plan and overall creativity help him stay active and busy.
There are a thousand things we admire about Mike, one of which is his commitment to and understanding of incremental progress. He works hard, every day, to find victories both big and small, to pursue adventure in myriad forms, and to stay true to himself despite life’s shifting obstacles.
Read on to hear some of Mike’s story!
Not necessarily in the context of the Freedom Chair, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a piano and organ technician. I still do this on a very limited basis. I have been choir director at Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church for over 25 years, which I also continue.
My son, Spencer—who is completing his doctorate—and I wrote a trilogy of novels that still sell on Amazon. We wrote them under the pen name Spencer Michaels and the three novels are If, Sopie, and Sonny’s Boy, which was released just before my serious surgeries began [Check out the trilogy on Amazon, here!]
My wife, Susie, and I live in Virginia, along with our furry dog-daughter, Luci.
What adaptive mobility equipment did you try, if any, before the Freedom Chair?
When released from rehab in December of 2018, I was sent home with a traditional Drive wheelchair. Once I got some of my strength back, I modified that chair somewhat. I also had a walker, but that was unusable at the time.
How did the above equipment fail? Or, what does the Freedom Chair allow that the other equipment could not?
The first fail of the chair was going down a ramp, especially in wet weather. It wouldn’t stop! Drive changed the wheels out for free—to treaded tires—which were somewhat better.
Knowing that I was going to be married to a chair for some time, I started investigating different options on the web. I, of course, started looking at the various power models that I could lift. However, I had one requirement that none of them could meet: I wanted to get back on the beach. We are fortunate enough to own a condo at the beach, but there was no way I could go out on the beach with either the traditional wheelchair or a powered one.
I searched using the search engines for a chair capable of going on the beach. Of course, I ran across the $10,000 tanks, but finally came across a video on YouTube showing this lever bike chair going on the beach.
I started investigating the company that made them, the history as to why they were making them, and finally came to the GRIT site.
Oh happy day! I worried the hell out of the GRIT team with my questions, but the day came when it arrived. I had a friend help me put it together and he then went for a ride. He said, “I want one of those!” I said, “No, you don’t,” and left it at that.
“If you are satisfied with pushing a button on an electric wheelchair, this is not for you. If you are competitive and want to get back outside and you are determined to do so, go for it. ”
What does a typical Freedom Chair outing look like for you? What do you do? Where do you go?
It was only recently that I was removed from my wound vac, which I was using due to an amputation, so I have not gotten to really run the Freedom Chair through its paces. I have gone on the trails a couple of times in Dan Daniel Memorial Park and I have run it up the road here at the house for a mile and a half.
I use the Freedom Chair every Sunday to take myself to church. I have a trailer, like another GRIT owner I know, on the back of my SUV.
My goal is still to get back down to the beach and also ride some trails there, but I have had a few setbacks, so I just have to be patient. My first spin with my beach tires may very well be snow.
How often do you use the Freedom Chair?
Everyday, when it is not too hot.
How did you raise funds for this chair? What was the process like?
It is difficult to get financing when you are disabled. In my case, I just couldn’t wait (impatient) for a grant, so I opted to use the Affirm program. Working with GRIT to get the most doable rate, we decided to only put the chair and wraps on financing to give me the optimum payment and rate. The improved gears and beach tires I paid for out of pocket.
You’re a marksman and hunter, yes? What got you into sport shooting? Has the Freedom Chair changed your involvement in the sport?
I used to bow hunt in the 80s. I quail hunted with a shotgun my whole life. I used to be a competitive archer, and in 1984 missed being the state champion by one point.
“Finding myself laid up didn’t mean I would lay around. That would kill me.
Work and kids find a person little room for hobbies. But, finding myself laid up didn’t mean I would lay around. That would kill me. I continued with my daily rehab exercises but found my self confined. Then I got my new chair and things started to change.
I purchased a Glock for my wife for protection and started to get re-interested in handguns.
Shortly thereafter, I bought my first 10mm Glock and started shooting daily from the Freedom Chair for support. Then, of course, while cleaning it, I—being a technician and curious—took it completely apart and reassembled it. Then I modified it. I just couldn’t help myself. Ain’t Dremel® tools great!
Also, several riders asked about conceal and carry. I have included some photos on that subject.
I saw Olympic para-archery on the web and thought I would give that a try, too. Although I am no longer strong enough to be any good at it, it is still fun.
What kind of preparation do you do before going out with the Freedom Chair?
I just take off. I, at this point, don’t go too far so there is no reason. I do have a GPS program on my phone to help with distance.
Is there anything you wish you’d known about the Freedom Chair before purchasing?
No, GRIT covered everything in detail.
What did you have to figure out, or work through, or solve in order to get the best experience with the Freedom Chair?
Of course, there is a learning curve. I used elastic bands and free weights to build arm strength before I got the chair. I guess the hardest part was going up the ramp without flipping over. But, after a week, I could do it.
I laugh now, as one day I was in the park and went down to the beach to see the water, not thinking that if you go down to something, you probably have to come up to get back.
It was too steep and I couldn’t get back. Luckily this guy came down and pushed me back on the trail. Some days, my brain doesn’t work. After the incident, I realized that I can walk some, so I learned to use the chair as a walker on steep hills. The levers fit straight up in their slots, making it easy to push.
“And for the first time in years I went shopping with my wife in the mall. I used to just sit in the car and wait.
You did a good amount of physical conditioning before receiving your Freedom Chair. What did you do? What would you recommend other riders do while they wait to get their chair?
Before I received my chair, I started working my arms, as my goal was going out on the beach. First I bought a Sunny Health and Fitness portable bike. It not only lets me pedal at 90 RPM, but I can put it on a table and use it as a hand cycle. I already owned a stationary recumbent bike, so I added some elastic (cheap) exercise bands to the fixed handles to do arm strengthening exercises while biking. Lastly, I used light free-weights at high repetition. Hope this helps, but using the chair 3 to 4 times a day for short periods will do it. Just don’t go too far too fast. You will get there.
Keep up with your rehab exercises, even when you don’t want to do them. Lack of exercise is what put a lot of us in this shape to begin with. It did me.
How, if at all, has the Freedom Chair changed how you spend time with your friends and family?
We do get to go on walks together, although I am like a turtle. And for the first time in years I went shopping with my wife in the mall. I used to just sit in the car and wait.
If you could define an “ideal kind of rider” for the Freedom Chair, who would it be?
If you are satisfied with pushing a button on an electric wheelchair, this is not for you. If you are competitive and want to get back outside and you are determined to do so, go for it. GRIT has a marvelous support group and the members are always willing to help.
If you could give any advice to anyone thinking about getting a Freedom Chair, what would you tell them?
JUST DO IT. Time to have fun and time is something we all have too little of.
Interested in Mike’s chair and accessory setup?
“When looking for a device to further my ability to get back outdoors, I investigated all types of motorized devices. The only two things I could never find was the ability for the chair to go on the beach (a must for me) and there needed to be some cardio.
Voila! I run across the Freedom Chair. After months of research and constant communication with GRIT, I decided this was what I was looking for.
When it arrived I was excited and like everyone in the group it was a little difficult to begin with. However, working with it daily has improved my ability to go anywhere I want and my activities are pretty much unlimited.
The GRIT team thanks Mike for taking the time to share some of his adventures and experiences with us. We wish him many more adventures to come!
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!