Success Stories

  • 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

  • Goldsboro Native Wins Gold in National Veterans Wheelchair Games

    national-veterans-wheelchair-games-logoVan Products family member, Johnny Holland, recently competed in the 31st National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Pittsburgh, PA. The Goldsboro native and Army Veteran did North Carolina proud as he placed 1st in his class and division in two events; Nine Ball and Weightlifting.

    He placed 2nd in Bowling and also participated in Softball. Johnny bowled a 162, and his winning bench press was 265 pounds. These are exceptional performances especially considering the wide range of skills needed to participate in four very different events. No wonder he goes by the moniker "Quadzilla!"

    Heading Back to Richmond, VA

    Johnny won’t have to travel quite as far next year. The 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games will come back to Richmond, VA., the site of the inaugural Games in 1981. The 2012 Games are set for June 25th through the 30th.

    Charlie Hayden is the sports director for the Virginia Mid-Atlantic Chapter Paralyzed Veterans of America. He’s very familiar with the Games because he participated in the original Richmond Games in 1981. “We’re very excited to bring the Games back to Richmond—where it all began nearly 32 years ago,” said Charlie. “The Games have grown tremendously since then, and we look forward to seeing that growth continue as we host the 2012 National Veterans Wheelchair Games.”

    Athletes can compete at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games each year and are presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). They are open to all U.S. military veterans in wheelchairs for sports competition as a result of spinal cord injury, certain neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments.

    Events in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games

    There are 17 events contested in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games:

    • Swimming
    • Table tennis
    • Weightlifting
    • Archery
    • Air guns
    • Basketball
    • Nine ball
    • Softball
    • Quad rugby
    • Bowling
    • Handcycling
    • Wheelchair slalom
    • Power soccer
    • Motorized wheelchair rally
    • Track and field
    • Trapshooting

    The athletes are grouped with others who have similar abilities, experience and age. You can learn more about the 32nd National Veterans Wheelchair Games at or

    Johnny "Quadzilla" on Television

    On a final note, Johnny was one of the athletes featured in the promotion done by a local TV station in Pittsburgh. During the advertisement, "Quadzilla" caught the eye of a young viewer and he immediately wanted to meet Johnny. He headed out to the Games and was fortunate enough to find Johnny amongst all the other competitors. Johnny shared his time generously and as you can see in the picture, gave his new friend a good look at his medals. While visiting at Van Products recently, he grinned and said, "Yeah, I definitely have a new buddy!"

    Where might Quadzilla show up next?

    On September 17th, Johnny will throw out the first pitch at the inaugural Miracle League of Franklin County baseball game at Louisburg High School. Game time is 7pm and Van Products will be there, too!

  • 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!

  • Wheelchair Accessible Roadtrip Tips from Candy Harrington

    Get Ready to Hit the Road this Summer with our Road Trip Tips!

    With spring just around the corner, it's time to think about planning that accessible summer getaway. And to be honest, there's no better way to travel than to just pack up the van and hit the road. This is especially true if you have any access issues. For a number of reasons.

    • You can pack along all the equipment you need.
    • You can take a restroom break whenever you need it.
    • You can alter your itinerary if you're having a bad day.
    • You don't have to worry about the airlines damaging your wheelchair.
    • You'll always have accessible transportation.
    • You don't have to buy an extra air ticket for your attendant.
    • You can take things at your own pace.

    Of course, advance planning is the key to a successful road trip; so with that in mind, here are a few tips to help your next one go off like clockwork.

    • Make sure you have emergency road service before you leave home; however remember that very few towing companies have wheelchair-accessible tow trucks. To avoid being stranded on the highway, check out specialty services such as ADA Nationwide Roadside Assistance, ( which also provides lift-equipped transportation to the garage.
    • Don’t leave home without your cell phone and charger.
    • Take along plenty of bottled water, because you never know when you will encounter a delay
    • For the best accessible restrooms, look for newer fast food restaurants. Most fast food restaurants are consistent in their restroom design; so when you find a restroom that has the access features you need, stick with that fast food chain.
    • Most Flying J truck stops ( have accessible shower rooms, complete with a roll-in shower, a roll-under sink and a toilet with grab bars. There is a charge for using the shower room, however it’s a good emergency alternative if you can’t access the shower at your hotel. They also have nice accessible restrooms, which are free.
    • Get your America the Beautiful Access Pass. Not only does it give you free admission to all national parks, but it will also save you 50% on camping fees. It’s free and available at all national park entrances. Proof of disability is required.
    • To fight off boredom on long drives, get some books-on-tape to play along the way. They’re free at you local library.
    • A GPS navigation system is a handy tool, but remember to also pack along maps and directions as backups -- especially in rural areas.
    • There’s no need to unload and load heavy suitcases at every roadside hotel. Just roll up an entire set of clothes for each day when you pack; then simply remove one set at each stop.
    • Look for Microtel Inn properties along the way, as they are constructed from the ground up with access in mind. They are conveniently located along interstate highways and they also offer very reasonable rates.
    • Finally, don’t forget to take your parking placard with you, as it’s valid throughout the US, except in New York City.

    Candy Harrington is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of Barrier-Free Travel: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers ( . She blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at

  • A Chance to Walk Again: Wheelchair to Walker

    Everyone knows someone who has found a wheelchair to be a useful mobility tool at some point in their life. The use may be temporary or permanent. Old age, skeletal or muscular disorders, severe weakness, congenital anomalies, neurological conditions, spinal cord injuries, amputations or other conditions may signal need for a wheelchair. Accessibility for wheelchair users has never been greater; public buildings, private companies and transportation accommodate anyone. And learning to use a chair for moving forward with your life just takes a little practice.

    Automobile accidents are a major cause of paralysis or loss of limb. A 26-year-old man, Jeremy Gates, was critically injured after crashing his car into a tree off a rain-slicked road. His brain suffered traumatic injury, he was in a coma for three months, and when he awoke his injuries left him confined to a wheelchair. He was determined to walk again, and after four years in the wheelchair was able to regain some use of his legs. New research, therapy techniques and sheer will proved key to his improved condition.

    Elon University and Alamance Regional Medical Center’s Center for Fitness & Human Movement Studies is researching physical therapy and mobility innovations and working to give patients an opportunity to rehabilitate and walk again. Gates turned out to be a perfect patient for a study the center was performing on “trunk mobilization exercises,” according to the Burlington Times News.

    The study worked to have Gates learn to contract his abdominal muscles so he could learn to balance and secure his frame and stand. His story is one of success. Using those techniques, Gates has made progress each year, from wheelchair to walker to now walking with the aid of crutches.

    But many others still struggle to do everyday tasks.

    While you are undergoing physical therapy and participating in new sports and other activities, and making new friends, and learning new things at college, being able to get from one point to another is important. Renting or purchasing Van Products wheelchair vans or mobility vans can get you on the move again.

  • The Paralympics: A Showcase for Handicapped Athletic Skill

    Handicapped Accessibility
    In a recent post we discussed the wheelchair rugby athletes in the film “Murderball,’ but that is just one of the countless events that comprise the international sporting event that is the Paralympics.

    Not to be confused with the annual Special Olympics, another amazing set of events, the Paralympic Games are an event held every four years in coordination with the Olympics.

    The focus of the Paralympics isn’t the disabilities or challenges of the athletes, but rather the training, hard work, and skill necessary to compete in this prestigious event.

    Since 1960, the Paralympics have run in-sync with the Olympics, held in the same city, immediately following both the Summer and Winter games.

    The Paralympics began as a small gathering of injured British WWII veterans in 1948 but grew over time to become one of the largest international sporting events in the world. The name Paralympics is newer yet and did not come into use until the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, which also marked the first time the same Olympic facilities were used.

    The Summer Paralympics features twenty different sports, including: wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, swimming, judo, and wheelchair volleyball, to name a few. The games offer the opportunity for visually impaired, intellectually disabled, amputees or otherwise wheelchair-bound people, and victims of non-progressive brain damage or physical disabilities to participate in sporting events.

    The focus of the Paralympic Games and all the involved events; however, is not the disabilities, but instead, the achievements of the athletes competing.  Paralympic athletes follow intense training regiments, comparable to their Olympic counterparts, in order to prepare for this prestigious event.  The most recent games, held last winter in Vancouver, were a phenomenal showcase of 506 athletes from 44 participating countries, with Germany claiming the most gold medals and Russia finishing with the most overall medals.

    Regardless of the winner; however, the Paralympics is always a landmark event for the disabled community because it allows those who require wheelchair accessibility and handicapped accessibility to show the extent of their capabilities.  The endeavors of these Paralympians will continue to inspire the handicapped community and encourage those with physical disability to shoot for lofty goals and believe in their ability to overcome disability.

    As a part of that handicapped community, we would love to get in touch with anyone in need of a wheelchair accessible van or other transportation, whether Paralympian or otherwise, so that we can help you attain those goals in whatever way possible. Drop us a note and we’ll answer any questions you have about wheelchair vans and other accessibility options.

  • The Psychology Behind the Documentary Film "Murderball"

    Although the Paralympics and many organized handicapped sporting leagues are relatively new, athletes have been participating in the sports themselves for years, refusing to let disability stop them from doing what they love. From time to time, someone will overcome the challenges of physical handicap become a professional or world-class competitor in their respective field. A documentary film called “Murderball” was released in 2005 and shined a bright and unfamiliar light on the previously unknown world of one of the most intense sports worldwide: wheelchair rugby.

    The film is centered around the American wheelchair rugby team and their struggles both as a team and as individuals to compete in the 2004 Paralympics games in Athens, Greece. Rather than documenting wheelchair rugby as a sport, though, the film introspectively latches onto the mentally and physically taxing lives of the athletes involved, taking a powerful look into the personal obstacles they are forced to overcome to achieve what they want.

    On a straight forward level, the movie revealed to able-bodied people the capabilities and fortitude of the handicapped community; on a deeper level, however, the film has psychological impacted the members of the handicapped community as well. The decision to show the wheelchair rugby team athletes as raw, determined and resilient diminished the glorification of their lives and made it possible for disabled people all over the world to relate to the players.

    Critics and the handicapped community alike lauded the movie as a groundbreaking and triumphant, tearing down the facade of pity with which the community is sometimes viewed and showing the reality of ambition, frustration and athleticism. This is why the film was relatable: no matter what sport you play or obstacle you face, the challenge of handicapped accessibility is real. Overcoming it to whatever degree, through the celebration and the frustration, is an accomplishment.

    At Van Products, we build relationships with our customers and communities as people, capable and resolute, even more so than most because of physical challenges faced everyday.  For any of your accessibility needs, be it wheelchair vans or handicap accessibility options, we’d love for you to let us help you keep life the moving experience you want it to be!

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