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All-terrain wheelchairs are changing how people access the outdoors

wilderness wheelchairs
Posted at 7:04 PM, Dec 15, 2022

PINE, Colorado — There's nothing quite like nature. The fresh air against your skin and the vast smells, like pine and dew. For Lisa Willman, the imprint of a wheel connects her to those moments.

"You don't want to give me that much leeway, you might not see me for the rest of the day," Willman joked.

She leaves behind a trail in the dirt that represents far more than the average eye would pick up on.

"And in September of 2014 I had a motorcycle accident and became what they call an incomplete quad," Willman said.

Willman and her husband moved to Colorado to be outside.

"So at that time I thought pretty much everything was over," Willman said. "Oh it was horrible. I specifically remember watching somebody walk their dog across the street and it just tore me up. I'm like I'm never going to be able to do anything like that ya know."

She thinks back to her volunteer position at Staunton State Park, which she's been a part of for nearly ten years.

"At a volunteer meeting we had here about two weeks before my accident, Ted had brought the track chair up and had it at the volunteer meeting because he wanted people to see it and what it was. Unbeknownst to me within months I'd be using it," Willman said.

Now all these years later, strapped into her track chair with her humor on display, she's like a kid in a candy shop on these trails.

"I wanna do this thing in the snow so bad," Willman said. "I can't describe how good it feels to be out here doing something."

Unlike other wheelchairs, these all-terrain power track chairs can conquer different obstacles. Think of them as four-wheel drive wheelchairs. Its tank-esc tracks allow the person using it to traverse rocks, creeks, tall grass, uphill climbs and even sand. Kristin Waltz, the program director at Staunton State Park says this park has paved the way for Colorado. Similar programs are in South Dakota, Georgia, Michigan and Minnesota and Kristin says, more are bound pop up.

"I think the biggest thing is that it's the participants hike so we're not on our time schedule, we work with them to say how long do you want to be out here? We can take over and operate the chair if someone gets fatigued or wants to tilt the chair back and take in the scenery," Waltz said. "It's just super exiting and to be able to support other parks I think right now I have three emails in my inbox of parks that have reached out. Now we're ready to really take it nationwide and support other programs as they get started."

These track chairs can change people's lives. They're also giving people hope and a reason to travel just for these opportunities.

"We open our reservation system May 1st and we probably get close to 100 reservations on day one and fill up for a lot of the summer but we are always working to get people in midweek if they are coming from out of state and just keeping every single trip that we have going out," Waltz said.

Lisa would be the first to tell you that being in that chair, experiencing the sights and sounds of nature, creates independence many people with mobility issues crave and deserve.

"You don't accomplish anything if you let the fear or whatever keep you from doing it," Willman said.