Outdoors

Can this ‘obscure’ chair take people with disabilities to Colorado 14ers?

Last month, Tammy Burton found herself at the head of another trail she couldn't attempt.

At least, she couldn't on her own. Cerebral palsy keeps her in a wheelchair.

But the 41-year-old Longmont woman wasn't alone this day.

She was greeted by a friend, Jeffrey Lockwood, and a few other avid hikers. They invited her to sit in a contraption called the TrailRider. And so she did as they pushed and pulled while a burly wheel crunched the dirt.

Burton delighted in the views and the breeze.

"It was a dream come true," she recalled in an email, which she prefers to talking because of a speech impediment. "Somewhat of a teaser of what's to come!"

Lockwood, of Colorado Springs, indeed has bigger and bolder adventures in mind for the TrailRider.

He finally got it this spring, a year after the Lockwood Foundation was granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. A year of fundraising netted about $9,500, he said, covering the cost of the vehicle he had in mind all along, appearing like some hybrid rickshaw/wheelbarrow.

It was January 2018 when Lockwood, a caregiver for people with disabilities, was sitting with one of his clients. Bound to a wheelchair, Zara Vargues mentioned how she wanted to experience the mountains. Also paying the bills as a part-time mountain guide, Lockwood understood the desire full well.

But how?

"We can't just go build a ramp in the woods," Vargues said in an email. "This is why the foundation was started, because it allows people with physical disabilities an option to go explore outside of what's built around us."

The answer was the TrailRider, Lockwood decided, preferable to the costly TrackChair. The ADA offering at Staunton State Park, built like a tank, is "amazing in its own right," he said. But the battery-powered chair wouldn't be allowed on trails in the tundra, for instance.

And yes, Lockwood intends to take the TrailRider to Colorado's highest reaches.

"If you can push it," he says, "it'll go anywhere."

He grants it's "a pretty obscure piece of equipment," the brainchild of an engineer and quadriplegic in Canada. It took Lockwood a while just figuring out how to order one.

But the TrailRider has been well-tested since its birth in the 1990s; videos show volunteer "Sherpas" pushing and pulling it through rugged terrain in the Rockies, and it has reportedly twice been up Kilimanjaro.

Burton's goal? Quandary Peak, the summit at 14,265 feet.

"Before meeting Jeffrey and learning about the TrailRider, I clearly knew my limitations," she said. "I had no idea that going up a fourteener was even a remote possibility."

Lockwood has a plan. First, he needs to rack up volunteers.

He said he has a solid core of fellow mountain guides, but he wants to continue building a roster of strong backpackers that includes people certified in wilderness safety and first aid. He wants to have at least 10 on hand for the fourteener trips, a team that could take turns pushing and pulling.

Before each trip, he wants to do "dry runs" with the team, taking the 40-pound TrailRider on its own up and down the mountain while scouting potential obstacles.

On the real run, they'll have to be willing to endure multiple days if needed. And equally important, the person in the seat will have to be willing.

Burton sounds up to the challenge. As a volunteer with Wilderness on Wheels, she spends most of the summer camping at the nonprofit's ADA-accessible woods. Her 13-year-old daughter, Destiny, does the same. The girl's rare form of epilepsy is life-threatening, Burton said, and it's in the mountain shade where she finds some relief.

Most parents would think something like a fourteener was "outrageous and irresponsible" for Destiny, Burton said, just like her hobby of rock climbing. "But that kind of risk-taking, I believe, has actually kept her both as functional as possible and, frankly, alive."

So they'll hope to attempt Quandary in the coming months. At the summit, Lockwood would feel similarly fulfilled.

For the long-haired 30-year-old, it's been a long, strange trip to Colorado, starting in Illinois. He grew up there and went to college, majoring in anthropology. He worked as a machinist, a union man and a massage therapist before he met a boy named Nick, who had autism. Lockwood became his mentor.

"I hadn't had a job like that where I could make a positive impact on someone's life that directly," he said. "I was hooked."

He'll try to do the same with his odd contraption. It's not just people with disabilities he's connecting with, but also people with strength – the pushers and pullers he's enlisting.

"They're really fired up about this idea," he said. "Lending your own strength to help somebody else."

  Comments