overcoming challenges

  • North Carolina Handicapped Sportsmen - Pender Possible Hunt

    Pender County Possible Hunt, held November 2011 (click on any image for a larger version)

    Just back from the second annual Pender Possible Hunt  hosted by the men of Pender Outdoor Ministries and sponsored by Van Products and Karl Reichardt with Wildlife Preservation Specialists. (If you need a great taxidermist, Karl's the man to call.)

    Once again the hunters were all lodged at Camp Kirkwood.  The beautiful fall foliage and lakeside lodges were welcomed sights and every one was so appreciative of the wonderful meals provided by Pender Outdoor Ministries and the staff of Camp Kirkwood.

    Another cabin at the camp

    Camp Kirkwood cabin








    We had a great hunt even though it rained a lot during the evening on Thursday and on Friday.  The big buck was taken by Ricky Morrow  seen here being congratulated by Karl as he awarded a free mount as the prize for getting the trophy deer.

    The biggest buck was taken by Rick Morrow

    Rick Morrow receives his trophy for the biggest Buck from Karl Reichardt








    Janet Harmon of Van Products awards a CVA 50 cal Muzzle Loader for the biggest doe to Gene Hildebran 








    Even though these guys took top honors, the real prizes were in the smiles I saw throughout the 3 day hunt.  Who could be prouder than Sean Houston?  The father of three boys, Hunter, Cole and Luke, ages 15,13 and 8 respectively.

    Cole has been fighting cancer and has had to have numerous brain surgeries over the past few months.  I'm told that after each one, the first question from him was always "Do I still get to go hunting?"  And his anticipation was rewarded when he shot his first deer using a special rig provided by NC Handicapped Sportsmen (NCHS) that allowed Cole to control everything by using a joy stick apparatus.  Not far away but in a separate stand, his Dad and brothers watched the joyous shot but not losing sight of everyone's ultimate goal, his Dad and Hunter reacted quick enough for Hunter to get a doe within seconds after Cole took the buck.  It was Hunter's first deer also. The next day we all agreed that Hunter was appropriately named when he shot another doe!

    Hunter Houston with his first deer

    Sean Houston and his sons Hunter, Cole and Luke






    Another one doing alot of smiling was Debra McKenna.  I first met Debra's husband Ray, back in March when they attended the Dixie Deer Classic and stopped by to see the GoShichi wheelchair accessible truck that Van Products had just acquired.  That outing was also when Debra first met Tony Robinson. Tony is a retired game warden and currently the Vice President of the NCHS.  He asked Debra was she a hunter?  When she said no, Tony set out to give her husband a new hunting partner.  Ray may never be able to hunt alone again! Debra's hooked and got a nice spike to brag about with her very first shot.

    Debra using her hunting rig

    Ray and Debra Mckenna









    And then there's Lee Hogan.  Lee and his neighbor and hunting partner, Bob Pershelli came all the way from the Charlotte area to hunt and I was fortunate to be able to use one of our vans to help get them in and out of the woods.  And boy did we go into the woods!  The first evening was unproductive and quite disheartening for Lee.  By the time we got back to camp he was so tired and hurting so much that all he wanted to do was take his meds and crawl into bed.  Lee's journey includes losing his home and belongings when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans.  His dependency on a leg braces and a wheel chair date back to an injury while working as a roofer.  Top that off with an aneurysm that is truly a ticking time bomb and a recent diagnosis of cancer and you can get a sense of the courage that it takes for him just to face each day.  Lee hadn't been in the woods hunting in a very long time.  He had no way.  He had no gun.  But then he found out about the NC Handicapped Sportsmen and started planning to do something he thought he'd never do again.  With Bob's help and a borrowed gun from Tony Robinson, I took Lee back into the woods.  Way back into the woods.  We actually drove 7.2 miles down a dirt road/path that runs along side the Cape Fear River.

    The Chrysler Entervan at the end of the trail

    The long drive along the Cape Fear for Lee Hogan








    The land owner was a little concerned about the Van Product's Chrysler Entervan making it through some of the mud and muck and I don't think I've ever gotten a van that dirty, but we made it and both Lee and Bob were rewarded with two deer a piece over the course of the weekend.  Even though it felt like it took an eternity to get to the sight where the owner had both a tree stand for Bob and a ground blind positioned just for Lee, it was truly a deer haven and all along the trek I could since Lee's anticipation.

    We could just tell it was going to be a good outing, and in less than 45 minutes, Lee took a four point buck and Bob using black powder took a doe just a little while later.  I even shot one, course it was with my camera, but I felt lucky just to get the shot.

    Lee and his 4 point buck

    Bob and the doe he took using black powder









    I did my shooting with a camera.

    The experience was the best dose of medicine Lee Hogan could have ever been given.  His testimony to us all at the closing meeting didn't leave many dry eyes.  Bob's having bypass surgery in just a couple of weeks and he certainly brings a whole new level to the meaning of "good neighbor." It is such a rewarding experience to represent Van Products as we support the endeavors of the North Carolina Handicap Sportsmen association.

    Every time I'm involved with these hunts and see all the volunteers as they help with weighing  and skinning  and all the effort that these landowners put forth to insure that each disabled hunter will have an ideal opportunity for success, I know that I am truly blessed to be able to witness the very best of humanity.

    Preparing to skin










    Time for quiet camaraderie after the hunt

    Sean Horsely (right) with Gene Hildebran and Mike West








    It takes a lot of time and effort to make an event like this successful and the  land owners and volunteers and folks like Sean Horsely, a wounded warrior and the Hunt Master for this hunt, can't be thanked enough for all that they do.

    There are so many that I have left unnamed and many that I didn't even have the opportunity to meet.  The Third Annual Pender Possible Hunt is already in the works and I look forward to having another opportunity to meet you then.  To everyone involved and until next time, thank you and Good Hunting.

    Janet Harmon


  • Parkinson's Can't Stop This Triathloner

    Van Products is a corporate sponsor of the Lake Royale Triathlon held near Bunn, NC, and that's how we learned of Jim Berndt's story.  When Jim recently entered the Lake Royale Triathlon, he was not really doing anything he had not successfully done before.  Jim was a triathlon veteran from years back.  In fact, he participated in triathlons for quite some time until 1988.  He decided that was the year to retire from racing to spend more time with his family and at work.

    Recently, Jim decided it was time to get back into the game…time for another triathlon.  No better place than Lake Royale in North Carolina.  He had family residing at the lake, a few familiar faces, and a great place to face the challenges of his first triathlon in 20 years.

    But Jim was, and still is facing a much bigger challenge than swimming, biking and running.  Jim was prepared to battle the hills of the Lake Royale Triathlon with a new challenge…Parkinson’s disease.

    Jim mustered the courage, trained hard and had a very successful outing at Lake Royale in 2008 and again in 2010.  Because of the disease, Jim has to train less than he might wish, but he takes advantage of the good days and dials it back on the tougher ones.  Despite all of that, he’s back for another triathlon this year,  participating  as part of a team!

    Jim’s Parkinson’s is at a mid-stage of progression and he takes medication to reduce the symptoms.  Oddly enough, swimming and biking actually reduce the symptoms of his Parkinson’s…he says that running is his greatest challenge, though.  When asked his opinion of the Lake Royale course, he replies, “God, that’s a hilly run course!  It’s a tough running course.”

    One part of the triathlon that many may take for granted is the transition area.  For Jim, it is an extra challenge.  The transition area requires fine motor skills, and Parkinson’s is not kind to fine motor skills, medication or not.  He gets through it, anyway.

    Jim’s sister told us, “He has never stopped being active or given up.  It was remarkable to watch him in the Lake Royale Triathlon.”

    Jim, we wish you good luck again at this Saturday's event!

  • Rachelle Friedman: Wedding Day Surprise!

    In a recent blog entry about Rachelle and her fiance Chris Chapman, we told you the latest chapter in the  journey leading up to their wedding day.  We are happy to announce that they were recently married and have returned from a great honeymoon, ready to begin their life together as husband and wife! The wedding ceremony was perfect!  The reception went off just as planned as friends and family of Rachelle and Chris celebrated the event into the afternoon.  There was a hidden wrinkle in the reception plans, though! Very few people knew it, but at the end of the reception, BraunAbility, Toyota and Van Products were about give the couple a surprise wedding gift...a 2011 wheelchair accessible van!  They had already enjoyed a van donated by Van Products in the months leading up to the wedding, which really helped out with all of the running around that comes with planning such an big event.

    Rachelle and Chris

    Rachelle, Chris (left) and Van Products President Tim Harrell

    They probably wondered quietly, how they would permanently solve the problem of transportation after the wedding and honeymoon...but before the day was over, all of that uncertainty disappeared as they drove off in their new accessible van!  Between Van Products and BraunAbility, the challenges of transportation have been taken care of since February of 2011 and well into the future. Van Products will work closely with Rachelle in the near future to install the necessary adaptive driving controls and training needed to make the most of her independence as a driver. And we'll keep you posted along the way!

  • Rachelle Friedman: Counting Down To The Wedding Day

    Rachelle Friedman WeddingIn March, we shared the story of Rachelle Friedman, an NC bride-to-be who was paralyzed in a tragic accident. The Knightdale resident was joking around with her bridesmaids when a friend's playful push landed her in a pool, leaving her with no leg or finger function. "I didn't know if I'd be able to ever have a wedding," she said.

    Van Products and BraunAbility teamed up to help Rachelle and her family by providing the use of a wheelchair van, and NBC’s “The Today Show” helped her renovate her home. 1-800-Registry, an online wedding advisory service, has even offered to pay for her dream wedding and honeymoon! "This is more of a fairy tale wedding. It's going to be crazy amazing," she says.

    In the last year, Friedman has taken great strides in adapting to life in a wheelchair and recently learned how to transfer herself from the wheelchair to her bed and couch.

    "That's something she really wanted," her fiance, Chris Chapman said of Friedman's progress with the wheelchair. "Each step is another direction toward independence."

    To stay active she participates in local wheelchair sports like rugby and tennis. Her fiance thinks "the sky is the limit" for what his bride can accomplish.

    Friedman will wed Chris Chapman at 11 a.m. Friday at the Fearrington House in Pittsboro. Congrats to you both!

  • Lou Gehrig's Disease: Woman Fights to Live for the Moment

    What does it mean to life life to the fullest?

    Ask Patricia Walsh, a woman diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease five years ago who continues to fight for her life. She has had 18 relatives die from the condition and based on her family history, her expected lifespan was about 10 months.

    Walsh has deteriorating muscles and nerves that limit the use of her limbs and she is bound to a wheelchair. She calls herself a “guinea pig” as doctors have performed a multitude of tests on her, including spinal taps.

    “I can tell you none of these tests are pleasant, but they are worth it if it helps the research and if it leads to a cure … and I’m not talking a cure for myself,” said Walsh. “I think the man upstairs has a plan, so I am going with it. I have daily pain, and I would describe it like having the constant feeling of pins and needles being stuck in you. It starts in the extremities first and moves up. I am basically watching my body die on me. If I fall and no one is around, I have to wait until my son, his girlfriend or my husband comes to help me.”

    Walsh is a fighter. She refuses to give up and is actively pursing activities she’s always wanted to do like getting her first tattoo and attending heavy metal concerts. Her tattoo exemplifies her philosophy: “Live for the Moment.”

    “If I don’t try to laugh and make the most of every moment, that means I’m losing,” Walsh said. “I used to enjoy dancing and making scrapbooks. I use to be able to open a door. I used to be able to cut my own food and open my own bottle of water,” she said. “I can’t do those things anymore and I hope people realize each moment is important. If I am to be an advocate, I’m going to roll with it. That’s one reason my new nickname is ‘Wheels.’”

    Walsh is an inspiration for those with degenerative diseases. Her zest for life is something we could all learn from.

    If you had a bucket list, what would you do?

  • Rachelle Friedman Update: Overcoming Challenges

    In March, we shared the story of Rachelle Friedman, an NC bride-to-be who was paralyzed in a tragic accident. Van Products and BraunAbility teamed up to help Rachelle and her family by providing the use of a wheelchair van. Now that the wedding is less than a month away, we wanted to update you on some of exciting events in Rachelle’s life over the past few months!

    This February, NBC's Today Show and George to the Rescue (a home improvement TV show) worked with the Remodelers Council of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County to remodel Rachelle’s home and transform it into a wheelchair accessible living space. They outfitted the home with an elevator, upgraded the master suite, kitchen, upstairs second bathroom and built a new deck with an accessible ramp. Check out the video!

    In addition to the exciting renovations, Rachelle was approached by www.1800registry.com who offered to pay for here wedding and honeymoon. The Today Show will be assisting with some of the planning and sending cameras to record footage the day of the wedding.

    In a recent blog post, Rachelle announced, “we picked the schedule, the yummy menu and threw around some cool decoration ideas! I've also tried on my original wedding dress and I'm so happy to say it will still work in a wheelchair. The wedding will be on July 22nd and we are all just so excited! We have been waiting so long for this day and I couldn't be happier!”

    Congratulations Rachelle and Chris, we are excited for you and look forward to hearing more about your special day!

  • Swimming with a Disability: Hannah Aspden's Story

    Hannah AspdenAt first glance, Hannah Aspden is a tall and athletic 10 year old with blonde hair and pretty blue eyes. The fact that she was born prematurely and missing her entire left leg, doesn’t slow her down. A fifth-grader at North Raleigh Christian Academy, her wry sense of humor, confident stance, and frequent smiles inspire everyone she meets.

    Hannah was born with what is called a congenital hip disarticulation. She has no leg at all on her left side. Her parents, Jennifer and TJ Aspden, believe their daughter was born to overcome challenges. "From the beginning, we decided to let Hannah be independent and to give her every opportunity to succeed," her father said.

    As Hannah grew stronger, her fighting spirit emerged when she tried to take her first steps and simply fell down. Her parents decided to try using a prosthetic to help her walk and saw immediate success. When she was just four, Hannah saw her older brother jump of the diving board and decided to give it a try. She came up swimming and has been a swimmer ever since.

    She confidently competes on the same level as her peers and recently returned from her first international competition, the U.S. Paralympics Spring Nationals/2011 Spring Can-Am Meet. It was the first time Hannah saw other athletes with disabilities like hers. "It was cool. Everyone had something different, but we didn't see each other for their disabilities because everyone was like that," Hannah said. "I saw how others deal with their challenges and saw that they were all just glad to be there and happy."

    Hannah has been able to turn her disability into a strength. She has tremendous core strength and upper body power and although she uses a prosthetic some of the time, she mostly gets around on crutches and by hopping. With inspirational perseverance, she appreciates her unique qualities and uses them to her advantage.

    We are inspired by Hannah’s enthusiastic and determined mindset and wanted to tell her story so she can continue to encourage others with similar disabilities. Who inspires you?

  • Multiple Sclerosis and Driving: Help Getting Behind the Wheel

    It is World MS Day and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is encouraging you to share what MS means to you! To us it means strength, courage, overcoming difficulties and patience with the unpredictable challenges that come along the way in daily life. As an auto retailer, when we think of daily life, we think of driving - whether wheelchair vans or a standard vehicle - so we wanted to talk about ways to overcome obstacles to keep driving as a part of daily life when you have MS.

    If you have Multiple Sclerosis, you know how the symptoms can limit your day to day activity. Getting behind the wheel of a car can seem daunting, but it is a valuable part of your mobility and independence. The range of visual side effects, unusual fatigue, muscle cramps, and other problems can all make driving uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. Due to these symptoms, special equipment or accommodations can aid you in safely operating a vehicle.

    According to the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists, you should pay attention to any visual, physical, or mental changes that may affect your ability to drive.

    Here are a few general tips:

    • Be careful driving at night, wear sunglasses during the day to help with glare sensitivity.
    • To combat color vision impairment, you can learn the order of the traffic signals.
    • If you suffer from memory loss, limit yourself to familiar routes.
    • Conserve your energy before a drive and don’t drive when sleepy or just before/after taking your medications.

    Driving with Multiple=For the majority of people with MS, the disease is no obstacle to safe driving. However, it is important to get an evaluation of your driving abilities and limitations, adhere to the legal restrictions, and access help from family, friends, and governmental sources.

    Our wheelchair vans are equipped with an number of useful features that accommodate drivers with MS. Special mirrors can help compensate for loss of peripheral vision and trouble turning your head and reduced-effort steering and braking systems can help those with muscles weakness.

    Lifts and ramps streamline the entry and exit process, and if you have serious weakness or numbness of the lower extremities, you can navigate with hand controls. To hear more about our variety of vans and conversions, give us a call! You deserve access the mobility you desire, regardless of your MS.

    What precautions do you take to drive with MS? Do you have any tips for accommodating the symptoms you experience?

  • Moves for Hope: Adjusting to Wheelchair Skills

    When he fell from a tree resulting in a spinal-cord injury which left him paraplegic, Tim Rushby-Smith saw his physically active lifestyle come to a halt. Adjusting to life in a wheelchair was tough. “The restrictions of four wheels quickly became evident. I couldn't move while holding anything, and it felt like everywhere I looked I saw stairs,” he says, “The wheelchair suddenly represented everything I had lost.”

    Then one afternoon he went to a wheelchair-skills session at Stoke Mandeville hospital, organized by The Back Up Trust. He learned a variety of practical skills and was inspired by his trainer who seemed at one with his wheelchair. Gradually Rushby-Smith rebuilt his ambition and realized he could get back to doing the things he loved in the great outdoors.

    Five years later, Rushby-Smith is is taking the skills and confidence he gained through the program and sharing it with others as a Back Up wheelchair-skills instructor. Working with all 13 spinal units in the UK, they help paralysis patients from ages 6 - 96. The program strives to teach the basics such as pushing forwards, backwards and turning, as well as more complex moves such as pushing with one hand, negotiating ramps and curbs, and going up and down stairs.

    “Numerous studies have shown the value of an active life to the long-term physical health of wheelchair users, but there are also important psychological implications to the role of confidence building. Developing independence is surely the first step towards rejoining wider society, and going back to work,” he says.

    Rushby-Smith knows what it feels like to not be able to see beyond what you can’t do, so he is inspiring participants to realize their potential and rethink what the future might hold. Once you learn the moves, life in a wheelchair isn’t as difficult as you might expect.

    What was your most challenging obstacle in learning to maneuver a wheelchair? How did you overcome?

  • Wheelchair Racing with Spina Bifida: Matt Davis' Story

    wheelchair racing spina bifidaGrowing up, Matt Davis had seen wheelchair racing on television but never imagined he would be able to compete. Today his walls are covered with posters of wheelchair racing in Japan, where he has competed on 10 separate occasions. Davis is proof that you can do anything when you put your mind to it.Born with spina bifida, a disorder where the vertebrae overlying the spinal cord are not fully formed, life in a wheelchair is all he’s ever known.

    As an undergrad at Western Kentucky University, the help of the student disabilities services changed Davis’s life. His Affirmative Action/ADA compliance officer helped him get his first racing chair. Through bake sales and pledges, they raised enough money for Davis to participate in his first race, a 10-kilometer race in Bowling Green in 1997. Since then, he has competed both nationally and internationally in wheelchair racing.

    Just last month, he finished 21st overall in the 2011 Boston Marathon wheelchair race. Crossing the finish line ahead of over 27,000 other participants is an impressive feat and shows just how far he has come.

    Today Davis works as the coordinator of Student Disability Services at WKU and helps students each day while they attend classes. “It helps when I meet with a student and can say, ‘I’ve been where you are.’ I was a student here as an undergrad. I know how the Hill can be challenging.” Davis works daily to ensure the correct accommodations are made in the classroom and around the campus for those in need.

    He has even inspired a number of WKU students to follow in his footsteps and get involved in racing. As an athlete and activist, Davis is a true inspiration for the wheelchair community.

    What are your favorite wheelchair accessible sports to play? Who has your favorite success story? We’d love to feature the amazing people in your community!

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