Growing with Technology

Here we are, at the end of Janurary and, despite sporadic storms, the snow does not seem to want to stay on the ground. It is not so much the Winter Wonderland nowadays as when I was a child. Winters have slowly seemed to become milder, as if Spring is just waiting for its first chance to warm up the ground and get everything moving toward Summer again. Maybe that whole custom of the groundhog being afraid of his own shadow and hinting at six more weeks of Winter might actually become obsolete some day; either that or we move back his appearance into the month of January! Who knows what the weather will start to do during the first half of this
century. I await it with anticipation!

I spoke a little in my last blog about using a sled for exercise in the winter time, and how I have transformed some of the things from my youth into activities for my adult life. I also mentioned how technology can affect our lives for the better and how it has completely changed mine. When I think about the latest massive flux of technology, I often wonder if people around me ever stop and take into consideration what it means to have a product that actually makes your life easier and supports a healthier lifestyle. Throughout our lives, we hear about and see the most recent updates on technology, including phones, computers, televisions, smart cars, and the heaps more of products that we integrate into our daily lives. Many people now even stand in lines waiting for the next upgrade for their cherished items. It has become our culture.

I, too, appreciate the gadgets that make my life easier and allow me to stay in contact with long-life friends, and allow me to feel better connected to a world that seems
to get smaller every day. I like to be able to email a family member in an instant rather than send a letter that could possibly only arrive on the next day, I enjoy watching an important public event on TV that I could normally not be able to see, and I love the fact that Skype and other video messaging programs keep me connected to all of
the friends I have made across the world. However, what I like most of all, which is what I want most to share with you, is the technology that often goes unseen by the people around us.

The products that have made my life easier over the years, since I was four years old, cannot be limited to just my wheelchair. Most of the time, especially when speaking
with a hospital or the dreaded, often-difficult-to-deal-with insurance companies, people will refer to all of those products I now mention as ‘medical equipment.’ By loose definition, they are what are used to help someone with a certain medical condition in order to achieve a better quality of life. I suppose you could say that, by that definition, my wheelchair could be put into the same broad category as a supportive stalking that helps to improve the circulation in your legs. For me, that is always funny to think about.

I never considered my wheelchair as a piece of medical equipment. Ultimately, it was an extension of my body, and has served as, in a sense, my very legs. Without my
wheelchair, my day would be much less active and my life would be probably more depressing. I would be stuck in my house, possibly waiting for someone to pick me up for a daily outing and life would not have the thrill that it has for me now. Thankfully, wheelchairs were in fact invented, and they have come a long way since my childhood.

My first wheelchair was, of course, what most people get to experience at least once. While I was in the hospital, and while I was going through the necessary therapies after my hospitalization, I was put into one of those one-size-fits-all hospital chairs. It was made of heavy aluminum, and it seemed like it was impossible to steer or even reach my short little arms to the wheels. I truly felt like a child in that giant hunk of metal! Quickly, however, thanks to my parents, I upgraded to my next chair-another aluminum chair that, although it mimicked the hospital’s version, was quite more comfortable and fit perfectly to my size.

I continued this transition from old wheelchair to new wheelchair like kids go through their clothes, albeit a little less often. When I started to become too big for it, we were already starting to plan to get a new one. What I noticed as I got older, and also as I got more active, was how the chairs were transforming. The evidence of the newest technology was mostly in plain sight. The older chairs had more metal and several more nuts and bolts, while the newer chairs had less metal and more welds. The
chairs became lighter and, because I could make them move with less force, I became much faster. My short pushes on the push-rims changed to long strides. What also changed was the angle of the wheels in relation to the chair’s frame. Instead of being straight up-and-down (i.e. perpendicular to the ground), my chairs came with a
wheel axle that was slightly slanted. Because of this, I had a wider wheel base, which meant more stability and faster turning. Ultimately, my chair was growing with me and this new technology was slowly improving my quality of life.

I was no longer bound to the chair. I was a part of it, and it was a part of me. It was like I was given a huge gift to my own freedom. I continued to replace chairs as I got
older as, one-by-one, I wore out each of them. Eventually, in my late-teens, I got my first chair that was fabricated mostly out of titanium. It was quite incredible to feel like nothing was beneath me holding me up as I rolled across asphalt and tile floors. I followed suit when I was in college playing wheelchair basketball for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, when their wheelchair athletic program gifted me a basketball chair in my sophomore year. That particular wheelchair forever changed the way that I played sports. Not only that, but it also greatly strengthened my perception of a wheelchair as the symbol for my independence. The things that I can do from a basketball chair still inspire me to this day to keep striving for greater things.

As I said, there are many more things that I could touch upon that are perceived as ‘medical equipment’ and that have vastly changed my quality of life, but the chair is
without a doubt the most influential. During my next blog I’m going to speak about other medical equipment that has changed my life since my accident. Maybe someone out there reading this can get some ideas from the things that I write, or they might even have their own thoughts from something they have experienced. If you want to
contact me about your thoughts, feel free to email me at I look forward to hearing from you!

For any of you who would like to browse some of the new wheelchair technology on the market today, including either daily-living or sport-related wheelchair frames, here are a few companies you can check out to see what they have available:

Colours, Eagle, Quickie, Per4max, Invacare

*These are all manual wheelchairs (i.e.excluding electric chairs), since that is where I have most of my knowledge.

Have a great week, everyone!

Zach Beaulieu

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that all of you have greeted the new year in good health.

On a side note, a be-lated Merry Christmas to all of those who follow the Julian Calendar, as their Christmas was on January 7. I hope it was a joyous day!
The year 2013 marks a new beginning for me. I am starting to turn over a new leaf in my life and I have already made quite a few changes. It may be the first year that I have actually started a resolution worth holding myself to. I also have started to recycle some old traditions from my childhood, a childhood that I appreciate more and more as I get older.
You see, I was fortunate enough during my youth to have parents that were not too strict. I mean this in the sense that, not only did they give me free reign in choosing my extra-curricular activities as a kid, but they also did not bombard me with limitations that I would consider to be overprotective. I noticed growing up that many parents, some who knew better and some who did not, forgot to treat their disabled child as if they were any other kid down the street, at school, or on the basketball court. In my case, and despite the small fear in their hearts, my parents let me run wild and experience the world for what it is-a playground waiting to be explored.
I was not even ten years old before I began to push my chair across the city of Augusta. From jay-walking to riding straight down the hilly city roads, I travelled anywhere I wanted to go in my wheelchair within reason. It may seem difficult, but, in the end, pushing is just like walking. However, the downward slopes were much faster and easier on four wheels than on foot. That much can be promised. Gravity was my friend nearly half of the time. The other half was, of course, a lot more trying on my physical strength.
I say that gravity was often my friend, but there was some work involved. Cruising down a hill sounds easy, but at the same time can be quite dangerous in a wheelchair, unless you learn to use your brakes. And what are your brakes? Well, your brakes are your hands. Wheelchairs do come with brakes, if you ask for them, upon ordering a new chair. Standard hospital chairs and normal medical equipment will most likely come with brakes, as they are required for safety. However, brakes on a wheelchair are not usually meant for slowing down. They keep your chair in place for when you want to transfer out of it onto another seat or into a car, or if you just want to sit still and the floor has a slight lean to it. Using brakes like those on a hill will most likely get someone seriously injured. It will cause you to either stop too fast or not fast enough. In the end, hands are much more reliable. I cannot say that I ever tried to stop with the brakes on my chair, but then again I never had to worry about an alternative. Plus, doing a wheelie is one of the best ways to slow down while descending anything-be it a hill, stairs, or sidewalk granite-and that cannot be achieved successfully, or should I say long enough, without your hands on the wheels at all times.
The only problems I ever had while braking with my hands were either when it was incredibly hot outside or when it was precipitating. When it is too hot, your hands will heat up quickly from the metal of your push-rims and force you to let go periodically, which in turn allows you to gain speed. As funny as it sounds, you learn to pump your hands against the push-rim, just like pumping the brakes of your car. It works perfectly and your hands stay cool enough to get to the bottom of the hill. When it rains or snows, your push-rims will become obviously very slippery, and you are forced to grip them as tightly as you can. Every now and then, when I had decided to be a bit lazy, I have lost my grip and gone flying onto the asphalt or into nearby puddles. You live; you learn. On a personal note, I would rather burn my hands a little than take a digger into the street any day of the week!
Even though I preferred to stay on all four wheels, or two, if you count a wheelie, I did not mind the anxious feeling I got, when I suddenly would lose control of my chair. It reminded me of what living is all about. I made mistakes and, excuse me for the cliché, but I hit a bump in the road every once in a while. For the sake of humor, I think that sometimes life can become a little boring without moments like these...As you can see, as I said before, I was allowed to act with all of the freedom to make these sorts of mistakes. I was, in my mind, an average kid.
Lately, the things I used to do in my youth have come back to me-the pushing my chair throughout the city, the downhill sledding in the Winter, the taking any opportunity that presented itself to climb or descend a set of stairs, utterly in spite of the challenge that was before me. Because of these fond memories, and in light of the fact that some of the things I did were actually great for my health, I recently decided to start doing all of them again.
So, I went to Kmart and I bought a sled. It was amazing to me to find the same exact style of sled since I was a child. I guess they did not need to change much over the years. I dare say that a sled is simply a sled, at least in the way that I would end up using it.
The very next day I got in my snow-wear and I took the sled for a spin. I transferred down from my chair and into the snow, and then I hopped into the sled. The snow was still sticky, because of the rain the day before, but I could still make it move at a good pace. I had forgotten how much work it could be to move a sled with just your arms, but I am grateful to have such an activity for the Winter months, while cycling outside is no longer an option. The most important thing I came to notice about a sled was that it gave me the opportunity to go places where my wheelchair would have no chance of going during the Winter. I could honestly trek my way into the woods and have an experience that I did not realize was so readily available to me.
This new change in my daily life has made me think more about how technology can affect the lives of people who are disabled. Most of the time, especially if you do not know a single person in a wheelchair, when you think of disability, you think of a chair, or maybe even a cane or walker. What you do not think of are all of the other possibilities out there. What other items can ultimately serve a disabled person in the same way, but not truly be classified as a type of medical equipment? For example, the same idea for a sled used by children to slide down hills in the Winter time was adopted by the creators of sled hockey, a disabled sport. The innovators merely added two long ice-skating blades to the bottom of a sled-shaped mold, which was made out of very strong and light-weight material, and voila there was an incredible adaptation that caused the birth of sled hockey. Disabled athletes could now sit on an ice-skating sled and play their beloved sport to their heart's content.
What I hope to bring to light with this blog post is not just to list some of the things that I did in my youth, but to send an important message. I want to express to you the power of enthusiasm-something all of us as children had a lot of in some way or another-when it is joined with a small amount of innovative thinking. This positive inspiration for the world, and for people with disabilities like me, is what motivates all of the people who volunteer at Outdoors Again, an organization which truly perceives the world beyond the wheelchair.

Zach Beaulieu

Halloween and the Obstacles We Face
Hello, again. I hope that all of you are well, and that you enjoyed the 'changing-of-the-leaves season' just as much as I have. Also, I hope that everyone had a safe Halloween, preferably with more treats than tricks! As for myself, I spent my Halloween with my two nieces and two nephews. I watched them get into their costumes, making me laugh as they were putting pieces of clothing on backwards, and then afterward warning the boys to be cautious with their fake sword props. Regrettably, we had to disarm the two boys. However, altogether, it was a lot of fun to see their faces when they received their candy. It was equally fun when they started to get tired, watching their grins turn to frowns. This may sound bad, but they are cute even when they cry. Have you ever seen a 4-year-old Power Ranger cry? Well, I have!

Before the kids went trick-or-treating, they took a short trip to the Augusta Armory, where 92 Moose was hosting an event for the community--a small Halloween bash, if you will. Now, this is funny to me, because usually it is very easy for me to find one, but I could not find a handicapped parking spot to save my life. Even though many people in wheelchairs consider a closer parking space a huge perk to being in a chair, it does not always benefit us as you may have imagined. In fact, I often forego it. After some searching, I parked far away from the building and in the farther parking lot at the top of the hill. I got out of my car (with some difficulty, since the spot I chose was a bit too close to another car), and I made my way straight toward the building. This means that I started to wheel toward the grassy hill rather than take the parking lot asphalt back into the opposite direction until I could come back toward building, all the while remaining on smooth tar. Instead, I pushed myself to the very edge of the lot at the top of the hill.

Without a second thought, well maybe a split-second thought so as to gauge the slope, I popped a wheelie and I started to roll down the 35-40 foot hill quickly. As I reached the bottom, I heard a guy near the building who was shouting toward me, "that was freakin' awesome man!" So I responded with a chuckle and, "Thanks! Whichever way is the quickest, right?!" as I passed by him. For me, this was always my reality. When I was young, I realized that countless entrances to city buildings, entrances to baseball fields and recreational parks, and most especially the entrances to peoples' homes--even my friends--were all either inaccessible through the front door or sometimes even inaccessible altogether.

It was because of this realization that the world confronted me with more obstacles, such as stairs, hills, sand, and so many other things, that I began to defy the warning in my mind that I would need to take an alternate route to my destination. I did not like the sense that I was cornered in any way, so I threw that notion out the window. I said to myself that, if I can make something doable, even if it required a little more work, then I would learn to do it that way. This is not saying that every time I encountered stairs, I chose to climb them in my chair, but quite often I felt the urge to scale them and to break out of my normal habit of looking for an easier path.

Since my injury, which again was when I was four years old, I have learned to climb stairs, to go down stairs, to ride the escalators in either direction, to jump the curbs both up and down from the sidewalk, to go up and down steep hills, and many more things. In fact, now I can do all of these in the rain and even in the snow. These all required a few scrapes and bruises before I could do them perfectly, but I would not change a single thing from when I was a kid and what I learned about facing the obstacles in front of me. Concerning the steep hill on Halloween, it was a great example of something I had to overcome. Going down steep slopes taught me a lot about my chair and how to balance it properly. When I was young, it was new and dangerous. Now, it is a breeze.

I hope this post gives you a little insight on how I faced my environment, specifically the outdoors, while I was growing up in a wheelchair. I have infinite more stories to tell, and I look forward to sharing with you all of the tales of how I adapted to meet nature with a confident smile. Until next time!


To ride or not to ride? That is the question.

      Hello, readers!  There has been quite a bit of rain lately, but it hasn't stopped me from getting out and enjoying what periods of clear weather have been available.  In fact, I went to a stables the other day not far from Old Town, Maine, with a friend of mine.  She showed me around, as she boasted about her horse and how beautiful it was, gloating about the fact that her relationship with the horse was unmatched in regards to even the stable and horse owners.  Honestly, as I watched her with the 'black beauty', I believed her.  We sat in the stables for a while, and I helped her to brush him and get all of the dirt out of his hair.  I guess horses like to roll in the dirt and mud nearly as much as dogs.  In fact, they act like giant pets much of the time.  Needless to say, I was entertained while I watched him 'act out' and randomly do things that were considered disobedient.  It reminded me of my dog growing up, minus the gigantic part, of course!

      After we cleaned him up, I trailed off for a while and watched the horses in the arena.  It was a holiday, so a lot of people were around during the day to practice riding, and lucky for me, I had the star treatment, since my host was nearly an expert in the matter and she made my visit very welcoming.  Eventually, the stable owner came by to greet me and she asked if I had ever been on a horse.  Unfortunately, I had to say "no," but that I had a lot of enthusiasm to try it soon.  She told me that she would look into the saddles that would suit me, so that I could finally have a chance.  So, sometime in the near future, be prepared to hear about my first horse-riding experience!  I'll make sure to let everyone know how it goes as soon as I'm off the saddle!

      Overall, the experience of being at the stables was a bit nostalgic for me, because it reminded me of some of my passions as a child that I had never fulfilled.  I had secretly always wanted to meet a horse and, in fact, when I was young, I thought about riding one all of the time.  The only reason that I can think of to have not done it was that I just never sought it out, although the temptation was always there.  I suppose what kept me from doing it is probably what keeps most disabled people, or even people in general, from doing something that they already have the desire to do-it wasn't sitting right in front of me and knowingly accessible.  Nevertheless, I realize now that that's no excuse, since there is always a way to do something that you would like to experience.  Everything is accessible with a little bit of effort.  I remember watching movies throughout my life and looking at the saddles, thinking about how I could alter it to make it possible for me to ride.  To be honest, a seat-belt or strap over the saddle always just seemed dangerous.  However, in the end, I have learned that the best way to engage yourself in something, especially a new experience, is to merely start doing it.  Do what little homework there is to do on it, and then do it.  It's as simple as that.  I was thinking more about it after my time at the stables and I remembered that, when I was around eleven years old, I was riding a knee-board on a lake that had a quickly-detachable belt on it, and it was more than safe for me, if I ever found myself in a tense situation (i.e. turned upside-down, underwater after a wipe-out).  If you're wondering how I rode a knee-board when I was paralyzed, I tried a few different things until I decided to sit Indian-style.  I strapped my legs down tightly, and kept both of my arms close together with my elbows tucked down at my center in the middle of my waist, and with my hands out in front of me, pressed down against my legs to keep me firmly in that position.  While holding the reins tightly, I kept a strong arc in my back to stabilize against the turbulence of the waves.  I would have to say knee-boarding was a great step for me as a child, because I took more of a risk being strapped to something out in the middle of a body of water.  That was a memorable moment that changed me for the better.  And all it took was a little courage to try it.  As you can see, I had little fear as a kid, despite my disability, and I always wanted to join my family and friends in whatever daring adventure they had lined up.

      Truthfully, when I think more about it more, the idea of horse-riding pales in comparison to many other first-time experiences for me-both those that I have done and those that I have yet to attempt.  I hope that I can tell everyone about my first ride soon.  I will keep you all posted on whenever that will be!  My next blog is going to share one of my experiences in the wilderness and how being in a wheelchair has changed my life for the better.  Thanks for reading!

Until next time!


Let us introduce you to Zach Beaulieu

Hello everyone, this is Zach Beaulieu, a member of the Visionary Council for Outdoors Again.  I wanted to start writing a blog to keep track of and relate all of the things that I have noticed and experienced in my everyday life and around the world relative to being disabled and confined to a wheelchair.  I have played wheelchair sports for most of my life, and I have participated in countless activities.  Ever since my paralysis at the age of four due to being struck by an oncoming car, all of my experiences and my travels have slowly changed me into the person I am today, driven to try anything, and never assuming that an obstacle is impassable just because of my situation.  As a member of Outdoors Again, the goal of my blog will be to provide awareness to the disabled population about what is available to make their experience with the outdoors an easy one and also to educate the public.  I hope that this blog will inspire others to try some of the things that I have done and will shed more light on the experiences that are out there just waiting to be pursued.  I am very much looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you.  Welcome to Outdoors Again!


A Few Words From The Heart

Outdoors Again, is truly a dream come true.   I have had a very eventful and crazy life.   From inventing some of the world's first military robots, to having my own self-titled show on the Discovery Channel, to being in major motion pictures.  All of this is supposed to be fun and give you joy.... Right...?   Well, not really.   All of this is hard work, painful at times and relatively un-enjoyable.   Don’t get me wrong, blowing things up and testing ballistic armor is fun but for every minute of fun it seems there are hours of invention frustration, worries about meeting payroll (as we get larger), about failing tests, or even aggravation for not having much free time.   This has been consuming my life for years now.   

One day I got burned out.   I wasn't broken; just really tired.  I looked to the sky and asked God: "Is this what it's all about?    You want me to just invent, fly around the country, and get burned out?  For what lord, for what??”  I asked these questions to God in my head as I looked to the clouds and got back a prompting.  "ARE YOU DONE?  ARE YOU DONE MESSING AROUND, BECAUSE I HAVE A REAL PROJECT FOR YOU NOW!"    I instantly knew what the project was.   The Project was the Ripchair program.   But only bigger.   Way bigger.  And the vision for Outdoors Again was born.   I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it.  I have never built a non-profit.   As a matter of fact I didn't even know anyone in a wheelchair. 

Knowing I was burnt,  I knew I needed a new look at things so I started putting it all together.   I started working with people that lived in wheelchairs.  We started hanging out and doing things.   At first just meetings to figure out what they wanted in the park, thus forming the OA Visionary Council.  Then trips to the land so they could see it and travel the land on the Ripchairs and four wheelers.   Then we started doing golf events and planning hunting trips.   Finding ways to get these wheelchair users out of the house and doing things that they have never done before or have not done in a long time or even thought they could never do again.   Fun things, healthy things, things that spread love and hope--all just very cool things.   It is a very weird thing to say or put into words but my life before OA was filled with confusion, anxiety and dread really and now with OA my life seems filled with love, hope, inspiration and the sense that something far bigger is being done here and I'm not in charge.    I am going to call it a Blessing.  

              ~Geoff Howe, CEO of Howe and Howe Technologies and one of the founders of Outdoors Again

A Summary of our Summer working with Outdoors Again

With the summer coming to a close I felt it was a good time to recap on the adventures that have brought us to this point.  For the better part of year now we have being working hard to bring Outdoors Again to fruition.  There have been inspiring moments, setbacks, advances, smiles and tears, and networking like you wouldn’t believe!  Overall our mission has not changed nor our commitment diminished in any way—in fact, the further we become involved the more we see the need for such a park and opportunity for the people we’re trying to help.  To put it another way, our resolve has been hardened by what we’ve learned and the challenges we’ve come up against. 

I’d like to focus on the best parts of the year, so far.  Geoff and I met some individuals in the spring because we knew that we needed some ‘insider information’ to get this project off the ground.  They moved us immediately and in ways we really didn’t seem coming (worrying about bills became a little less worrisome after meeting someone in a wheelchair) and it changed our motivation to something more personal—the need to help these individuals in particular; a personalization, if you will, of the larger mission.  Since that day we have come to know the members of our council much better, laughed and enjoyed time with them and enjoyed introducing one of them to a new sport, even.  It has been fulfilling and heartwarming to see the looks on some people’s faces when we tell them what we are doing and why. 

Alas, we are not going as fast as we would like.  This is not to suggest that we are not working diligently, it just means that we are impatient and would like the park to be done NOW!  Impetuous? Maybe.  Naïve? Probably.  But that doesn’t negate the sense of urgency that is driving us.  We just held our first fundraiser and were able to raise over $3000 dollars and had fun doing it.  It was done in no small part by the volunteers from Howe and Howe and others (thanks, Mom!) and special recognition should go to them for sacrificing their time and pay to help with the endeavor. 

We are still on the move forward, though.  Our next fundraiser/outing is a hunting trip in the fall and we’re hoping to raise enough money to bring out least 10 people out with us and to increase our fundraising pool so that we can continue to have events like this.  So, thank you to everyone that has supported us so far, and we look forward to earning that support in the future.  Bring on the Fall!

                                                                Brian T. Bair, Outdoors Again Outreach Business Director

Deanna and Tony's Story

My name is Deanna. I am a mother and a caregiver.

My son, Tony, was rendered a quadriplegic December 30, 2006 in a logging accident in Kentucky.where he had gone to work. The guys weren't going to work that Saturday but Tony talked them into it. He called me twice that morning so excited about being out in the woods and doing what he loved to do which was logging. Three hours later I got the call. Tony was on the ground limbing and a tree dropped on his head. The force was so great that his C5/C6 vertebrae shattered and shot into his spinal cord instantly breaking his neck. He was in ICU for 7 weeks and 5 days. For the first 3 weeks they couldn't really tell me if he was going to live, and if he did that he would never be able to breathe on his own and get off the vent--but he did. Tony is a fighter and an inspiration and proved them all wrong.

Since then I have been his primary caregiver and everything that goes with it. We have spent much of our time traveling back and forth to Fraizer Rehab in Kentucky and to other excellent rehabs for different therapies and a couple of triceps surgeries. We have both grown and learned so much working with a bunch of different therapists, met a lot of wonderful people, both here and in our travels. One of the most difficult things since Tony's injury is the inability to do the things outdoors that he loves doing, not for lack of trying, but unfortunately that has resulted in him flipping his chair over 4 times. He just laughs and says that he was missing the smell of the mud.......

We recently discovered the website for Outdoors Again. We were both overwhelmed to say the least when we learned more about the vision of Geoffery and Michael Howe. Tony breaking his neck so high has left him with almost zero hand function so for this project, Outdoors Again, to come to fruition means the world to us and I'm sure to anyone out there in a similar situation. We, as able bodied people, take so much for granted. Tony and I both took so much for granted without even knowing that we were doing it. We were so involved in our day to day life that I am ashamed to say we never stopped and took a look around. I myself don't remember seeing anyone in a wheelchair with the exception of a hospital environment. Obviously that all changed the day we were ripped out of our old life and thrown into our new reality. What a ride!


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