Rhinelander man gains more independence with an innovative wheelchair
One anniversary date Bob Simon will never forget is March 24, 2008. That’s the day he lost both legs.
It’s been more than six years since that horrific morning when a roll wrapping machine tore into his lower body, crushing his legs in an industrial accident. Since that time there have been many days when Bob was filled with palpable fear, hopelessness, and the deepest of despair.
“I thought my life was over,” he said. “I just didn’t think there was much to live for.”
But this Rhinelander native and active outdoorsman has learned some valuable lessons since his accident, and these days life is a lot more optimistic. Bob attributes his happier lease on life to a new wheelchair he just recently acquired, the Action Trackchair.
“When I first saw this chair I knew I wanted one,” he said. “I knew this is what I needed to gain a lot of my independence back.”
And this chair is not only providing a better way for Bob to get around, but also some quick head turns when he’s out and about.
“It’s a very unique looking chair and I’m finding out people have a lot of questions when they see me in it,” he said.
Bob had no idea his future would take such a drastic turn on that March day six years ago. Up till then he had enjoyed a life filled with activity including working at the paper mill for 16 years, maintaining his own home, and hunting and fishing whenever he could. He loved the woods and lakes and only a few weeks before his accident he had acquired a springer spaniel pup he named Ollie. His intention was to train this lovable dog for bird hunting.
But that spring in 2008 was a rough one for the Simon family. Bob’s wife Lynn had been hospitalized in January with a life threatening respiratory illness and then their daughter Renee broke her wrist in an ice skating accident. But Bob’s accident shook the family to its core.
He spent close to eight weeks in the hospital but he couldn’t come home to recover because his house was not set up to accommodate a wheelchair.
“I had to stay at a motel for 111 days until my house was remodeled to accommodate my wheelchair,” he said. “They built a ramp outside and then they had to widen all the doorways.”
But even after getting back home Bob’s zest for life dwindled.
“I just didn’t know where to turn,” he said. “I didn’t know what was out there for people who had lost both their legs. I love to drive and I thought that was over. I love to fish from my boat and I thought that was over. I love to hunt and I just didn’t know how I was going to accomplish anything that I enjoyed before I lost my legs.”
But the family had more friends than they knew.
Russ Fish, Scott Schmidt, Jeremy Evans, Todd Perigo, Lee Bastian, Dr. Susan Stacy and many more, all came to the family’s aid. While Dr. Stacy took the family under her wing, the others made sure the leaves were raked and the snow was plowed from the Simon driveway. These good friends also pushed Bob to get outdoors.
“I loved those guys for getting me out but it was hard,” he said. “My prosthesis’ weigh eight pounds each and they hurt to walk in, so lots of times I would just crawl around or the guys would have to carry me. Walking through the woods was tough especially with a loaded gun and walking on ice was impossible so I would just crawl from hole to hole which meant I was usually crawling around in melting ice.”
And then one day Bob saw a commercial on the Bill O’Reilly talk show featuring the Action Trackchair. This celebrity thinks so much of this wheelchair, he heads a drive to raise money to purchase the chairs for returning warriors who have lost mobility during their tours of duty. Immediately Bob wanted one.
“I knew it would give me back a lot more independence and that’s exactly what I was looking for,” he said.
So Lynn got on the Internet and did a little research. Lynn had been a 20 year employee of JC Penney and with the store closing last year, she was out of a job and looking for a new one.
“When Bob first told me about this chair I was like, here we go again, another hunting or fishing toy,” she laughed. “But once I saw what it could do I was impressed. I also noticed that the company was looking for a northern Wisconsin representative and I thought that would be a good opportunity for both Bob and me.”
The Action Trackchair is produced in Marshall, Minn. and is the brain child of Tim Swenson, who used to operate a motor sports business before he came up with this unique invention. The chair came to being after Tim’s 16-year-old son was involved in a car accident leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. One of the boy’s favorite pastimes was hunting and fishing but after his accident he couldn’t get into the woods.
“Tim built the first chair by using parts from a snowmobile track figuring that would work better in snow, mud and tall brush,” said Bob. “Once other people saw the chair they wanted one too and so that’s how Action Trackchair was born.”
The chair is indeed equipped with a snowmobile-like track system that can take a passenger through 8-inches of snow; scale 10-inch diameter logs; climb over curbs; plow through heavy mud and it can wheel around on beaches, even venturing into the surf. Every chair is specifically made to fits its owner and they come with a multitude of accessories and accommodations.
And Bob loves how people react to this unique device. A few days after receiving his chair, Bob and Lynn debut it at a snowshoe baseball game in Lake Tomahawk. The reactions of people when they saw Bob wheeling down the street were eye-opening.
“So many people came up to me asking questions,” Bob said. “One lady even had tears in her eyes because her husband has a neurological disease and has trouble walking. I went to see him and I gave him all the information about the chair.”
Now that Bob and Lynn are representatives for the Action Trackchair Company they are looking forward to demonstrating its unique qualities to others who long to get outdoors no matter what the terrain. In fact, just recently Bob was looking forward to demonstrating the chair to a local veteran who also has some mobility issues.
But what Bob is really looking forward to is getting out into the woods this fall, with Ollie by his side, hunting and enjoying all the beauty that he has so yearned to explore independently again.
“I’m so excited about this chair and the possibilities it has opened up for me,” Bob said. “And I’m so thankful that I can be part of helping other people gain more independence because for me that’s what it’s all about.”
For more information about the Action Trackchair call the Simon’s at 715-550-8139 or 715-360-3749.