The scent of pine trees pricks your nose as you sniff the mountain air. The adrenaline rushes as you figure out the best way to navigate a steep decline. The aromas, sights, sounds, and the joy of being human brings joy to your face as you look toward the sun. Mt. Rainier, Crater Lake, or different park adventure cries, “Pick me, pick me next!”
But what happens if you are suddenly stuck in a wheelchair and are told you will never walk again? Are your days of adventure over? A few days ago I would have said, “Yes.” I would have been wrong.
Geoff Babb has a passion for the outdoors. He gets his energy from being out in the wilds. When a brain stem stroke in 2005 left him in a wheelchair, he decided that it was just one more obstacle that he would have to overcome. He didn’t have his legs underneath him to walk, but he did have wheels. Part of the problem was that the wheels of a regular wheelchair weren’t tough enough to take him where he wanted to roll. So he decided to figure out a way to upgrade so that he had an AdvenChair.
“It is so empowering for me to be outside in nature feeling the elements and being part of a team that got me there. It is being out in the elements and part of the process.” —Geoff Babb
Things to Solve
The standard wheelchair did not perform well on off-road surfaces. It wasn’t long before Geoff figured out that he needed something different. Like some stroke survivors, he lost arm mobility that he couldn't get back. Somebody needed to push or pull him, typically a task his wife, Yvonne Babb, took gratefully.
Geoff and Yvonne started building what eventually became the AdvenChair with friend Dale Neubauer. They added mountain bike wheels (and eventually handlebars) to give the driver more control over where to guide the wheelchair. In 2008, a FreeWheel was added to the front to allow the chair to glide over rocks and roots without being stuck by the four-inch caster wheels that come standard on wheelchairs. In essence, the AdvenChair can now turn into a three-wheeler.
It was 2016 when they hit the Grand Canyon and expected a phenomenal hike to the bottom. The hike ended abruptly going down when the AdvenChair broke the axel sheath. Geoff got back with the help of his friends. (I can hear grunting at this point.) He had to begin working on a new design.
The Second Time Around
Twelve years (to the day) after his first stroke, he had stroke number two. The second one scared him. He had face droop and vertigo, which he hadn't had before. Geoff quickly understood that he had been there before. Although he lost some additional mobility in his arms, he couldn't wait to hit the trail again with his team.
AdvenChairing is a team sport with as few as two people or as many as six. It takes a lot of coordination and communication as mountaineering and rafting do.
“I feel as if I am part of the team,” explains Geoff. “The process of evaluating where we are, the footing and safety issues. I help the [team] problem solve. It’s definitely a physical work out for me because being jostled side-to-side takes a lot of core strength for me. It’s really good for me because I feel like I am really part of the strenuous activity. It’s definitely a way that I am participating, not just being a passenger.”
I was intrigued by this business. Geoff has figured out a way to make the wheelchair able to go off-road and comfortable at the same time. If you want one, go to AdvenChair for details. Geoff also plans to make it available to bike and equipment rental shops, nature centers, parks, tour companies, adaptive recreation programs, outdoor schools, and veteran’s groups in the future. If you have a friend or family member who has had a stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, or a kid who has special needs, the AdvenChair might be for you.
AdvenChair has given new meaning to Geoff Babb and his friends because he can enjoy the outdoors once again. I think it created meaning in a different way as well. Geoff has demonstrated that you are not the disease, and he will sell the AdvenChair to those who need it.
(Sniff) Ahh. Can you smell the pine air?
Note: The Coronavirus has put some things on hold for Geoff, but he still plans to start making them for sale in 2020. Please visit his website to learn details.
Specs for the AdvenChair show how different this product is.