It was a typical hot August day in 1999 when our world changed forever,” says Liz Soden. “A tire blew out on my pickup truck, resulting in an accident that left Brad with a broken leg, the three boys with some bumps and bruises, and me with a broken back at L-1 and paralyzed from the waist down.”
Like anyone faced with devastating circumstances, there were lots of adjustments and changes that needed to be made despite their desire and attempts to keep life “normal.” Liz explains, “I could no longer work driving the school bus and it became necessary to move to Phoenix for easier access to my medical care. Everything in the house had to be modified and adjusted so I could take care of my own basic needs. Camping, fishing, hiking, and 4x4ing, which were a big part of our life, definitely became a big challenge in a wheelchair. Each camping trip would leave me more depressed as I faced more and more limitations.”
In 2001, her husband, Brad, decided to rent a handicap accessible cabin so Liz could be comfortable and enjoy some time in the mountains. Brad woke up early one morning and watched in amazement as a herd of wild Elk came through the campground. “I got so excited,” says Brad, “and wanted to share this experience with the entire family. I quickly and quietly woke up my five kids and got my wife into her wheelchair. We started following the herd. As you can imagine, the wheelchair that was assigned to Liz by the HMO wasn’t built to go through a mountainside. The family was watching the herd slowly walk away when Liz, fighting back tears, told the family to go on without her, knowing her wheelchair could not go beyond the paved path.”
Brad says, “I got so mad at the situation. It was not right that someone could not enjoy things because of a disability that was not their fault. The problem wasn’t the desire; the problem was that we had the wrong tools.” That started Brad thinking.
For anyone who finds themselves confined to a wheelchair, their days of camping, hiking, walking on the beach, and many other once enjoyed activities are just distant memories of the past — a life they once lived. Sure, motorized wheelchairs help with mobility; allowing a person to venture out of their home — as long as the weather is good and there is smooth terrain.
From Adversity to Independence
Brad was determined to find a solution so his wife could still partake and enjoy the outdoor life. He devoted his spare time to experimenting with golf carts, ATV’s and other motorized chairs. He had many trial and errors and burned up many motors.
When Liz’s father looked at the latest creation, he said: “It’d be cool if you could put tracks on it like a tank.” The bells and whistles went off in Brad’s head. His experience with tracked vehicles while serving in the U.S. Army during Desert Storm and his experience as a front line infantryman in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle lead him to the obvious solution. From that idea the first Tankchair was created and gained great notoriety as Wall-E.
The Tankchair has come a long way since that first design. With each adversity came new upgrades and now is much more practical. It can maneuver a few steps, curbs, rocky terrain, sand, snow, mud and several inches of water. However, the Tankchair is definitely designed for outdoor use only. The powerful tracks can ruin carpet and walls.
Brad also invented another chair called Speedster. The Speedster has motorcycle tires and can reach speeds up to 30 mph; however, the speed is limited for safety reasons. The Speedster can hold a single charge for about ten days making this chair even more amazing.
Liz says the best part about the Tankchair and Speedster is she no longer feels invisible. “People no longer avoid looking at me in fear of being rude because I’m in a wheelchair. Words cannot begin to describe the feeling I get when I am in one of these chairs. I don’t know where I would be right now if I did not have my wonderful husband by my side. I truly feel blessed and I want to share that feeling with all the handicapped people in the world. I was able to go hiking again and do all the outdoor things that I love. I now run with my kids in the snow and go to the beach again. With the Tankchair, I can go into the shallow water at the beach and get on a jet ski by myself. The first time I took off the feeling of independence was absolutely amazing, I felt normal again, like there was nothing wrong with me.”
Customized and Unique
It wasn’t long before the requests for Tankchairs started pouring in. But with each new request for a chair came the unique disabilities of the individual. Additional trials and errors were required to design a custom fit chair that would work for that particular individual according to their disabilities so they can gain maximum benefit and independence. Each chair can be customized to fit the individuals’ unique needs.
Here are some of the unique Tankchairs that have provided these individuals more independence:
- Investigator Bill Weigt from the Peoria Police Department became paralyzed from the chest down after he was shot in the line of duty in 2005. Tankchair built Bill a one-of-a-kind Cop Chair equipped with lights, sirens, and everything else Bill needs to continue working in law enforcement after his accident. Bill is the president of TC Charity; he wants to continue helping people through Tankchair the way he was helped.
- Jonny Ogan, now eighteen years old, was born without legs. Tankchair built Jonny an original Speedster that he is able to use as a car to get back and forth from school. Jonny’s favorite sports team is the Phoenix Suns so the chair was painted his favorite color and the Suns’ mascot, The Gorilla, personally delivered Jonny his chair.
- Josh Brown has been wheelchair-bound since birth. Josh is an amazing drummer and won a spot on the high school marching band but was unable to march due to the wheelchair. Tankchair built Josh a chair that allows him to march with his band mates by using his big toe to drive so he can use both hands to drum.
- Nick Mendes was a 21-year-old soldier doing what he loved, defending his beloved country until he was injured by an IED explosion while serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The IED blast left Nick in complete quadriplegia. Nick fell in love with his nurse Wendy and after four years of dating, Tankchair made it possible for Nick and Wendy to have the wedding of their dreams on the beach.
- Bill Dowling was a Fire Captain in Houston Texas for thirteen years, previously a marine. On May 31, 2013, Bill and his crew were in a burning building when the roof collapsed. Bill was the only survivor, but had both legs amputated and suffers from brain damage leaving him unable to talk. Bill is recovering and now able to barely move his arms again. Tankchair built a chair that resembles the fire truck he used to captain. With the Tankchair, Bill can go off by himself for the first time since his accident and it has a remote control so Bill’s wife can drive the chair when he gets tired.
- Chris Sullivan was serving in the line of duty when he was injured, leaving him paralyzed. Chris Sullivan met his beautiful wife after he was released from the hospital and they now have a son. All Chris wanted to do was play and run with his son but couldn’t with a regular motorized wheelchair. Tankchair made Chris a chair that allows him to chase after his son in the grass and sand for the first time.
Being a veteran, Brad takes it very personal when disabled veterans request a Tankchair. He knows the sacrifices they have already made so he can’t let money stand in the way of giving them some much deserved independence and ability to help themselves. Brad says, “Money doesn’t drive me, it’s about the smiles and improving lives.”
The solution was to create TC Charity, a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization with two main goals:
- Build a Veteran Vocational Rehabilitation Facility where disabled veterans returning from military duty can attend and learn a skill or trade that will aid them in finding employment in civilian life. We propose that the facility hire veterans to train and teach, as they have experienced the military life for themselves and can provide insight and support.
- Raise money to provide mobility to disabled veterans, police officers, firefighters and children.
Brad is happy to be able to provide other people all the freedom and joy his family and wife now have. “The Tankchair has changed our life just as much as the accident did back in 1999,” he says.
The Hall of Fame Players Foundation (HOF Players) has selected Tankchair’s TC Charity to receive a portion of funds raised during the Superbowl 2015 week here in Arizona. Over 30 Pro Football Hall of Famers are scheduled to attend each event including the HOF Players Golf Tournament, All Star Benefit, Jim McMahon Tailgate Party and other events. For event details and purchase tickets, visit www.hofplayersevents.org
For more information about Tankchair and TC Charity, call 1-888-519-4465;email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.Tankchair.com
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