When Krista Thiessen of Red Deer hit the ground for the first time in the TrailRider, she couldn’t stop smiling.
“It’s something like you’ll never experience at all,” said Thiessen, 30. “Just the greatest opportunity to get out there, see some nature.”
The TrailRider, a custom made wilderness access vehicle for those with disabilities, crushes boundaries when it comes to conquering rough terrain.
It goes where wheelchairs simply can’t, with its one wheel design and handles at the front and back for two or three sherpas (helpers) to move it onwards — both pushing and pulling. Some liken it to a wheelbarrow, others say it reminds them of a futuristic rickshaw.
Red Deer aquired its first and sole TrailRider in April 2013 after a local ad-hoc committee spent years fundraising — TrailRiders can cost upwards of $6,000. It’s available for anyone for free from The Lending Cupboard on 43rd Street.
“People don’t know it’s here so we want to get the word out,” said Walter Maidens, operations manager at The Lending Cupboard. “It was at the Hub and they gave it to us about two months ago so it’s the first time we’ve had something like this here and we just want to see someone use it. They can have it for as long as they want.”
No special training is required. Operating the TrailRider is pretty straightforward and “goof-proof,” Maidens added.
A number of the riders can be found out at Rocky Mountain House and in Banff National Park throughout the summer on special weekends hosted by the Canadian Paraplegic Association.
It was during one of these “adaptive challenges” that Thiessen tried out the TrailRider.
“My parents had heard of it before but we didn’t know where we could get one or rent one as they’re pretty expensive,” said Thiessen. She has since been out around the Kerry Wood Nature Centre on the rider. She said she never knew the area was so beautiful.
Sherry Albrecht, community inclusion co-ordinator at Catholic Social Services, has been involved with pushing for more TrailRider exposure in Red Deer for years.
“I got involved because I think it’s a great way that able-bodied people can help others who might not have that opportunity and then they get to meet people with disabilities and see they’re people just like you and me who enjoy the outdoors,” she said.
“It can go down narrow trails and moves easily on the grass,” said Albrecht. “In Kananaskis Country, they often bring people right to the top of mountains with the TrailRider.”
Albrecht takes a number of people out on the rider whenever she can to introduce them to it.
Last week, she helped Eric Kary, 39, born with cerebral palsy, explore Victoria Park beyond the limitations of his wheelchair.
“We thought we’d see how he would like it,” said Albrecht, who showed Kary’s community disability workers Colby Reid and Amber-Rose McShane how to be sherpas.
“It’s great,” said McShane. “We wouldn’t be able to do this otherwise. And it’s easy with three people, not heavy at all.”
The TrailRider has gone on to make groundbreaking strides across the world for people with disabilities, including taking a woman with multiple sclerosis to Mount Everest’s base camp in 2007. It’s also apparently trundled up the 5,900-metre ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, twice.
It was first developed in 1998 by Canadians Sam Sullivan of the Disability Foundation and engineer and Tetra Society volunteer Paul Cermak. According to the Disability Foundation, the concept was originally drawn on back of restaurant napkin and the design was based on a deck lounge chair.
Made of lightweight aluminum, the TrailRider has its own brakes controlled from the rear handles, extendable legs for stationary support and a “Mummy wrap” to keep travellers warm and dry against all elements. It also folds up to fit into a small car.
To take the TrailRider for a trek, contact the Lending Cupboard at 403-356-1678.