Hunter designs off-road chair
Necessity is the mother of invention, and nobody knows that better than John Rackley. Ten years ago at age 35, he broke his back trying to do a flip with a twist on a trampoline.
"I landed on my shoulder and the whiplash broke it," said Rackley, who at the time worked as a cabinet maker.
An avid deer hunter, the now quadriplegic (he's paralyzed from the chest down and has limited use of his right hand) continued to pursue his prey from the seat of a manual wheelchair. But his standard chair proved a "nightmare" to push along Maine's rugged dirt roads and going off into the woods was out of the question. Four years ago, a light bulb went off.
"We bought my daughter a bike for her birthday, and I looked at it and it just popped into my head that I could make something similar to a bike," Rackley said.
Earlier this year, he began marketing his aluminum Renegade chair on the Internet (www.renegadewheelchairs.com). The lightweight chair--intended for off-road, not everyday use--comes with mountain bike tires, push levers, drum breaks and seven gears located inside the wheel hub. Pushing forward on the levers moves the chair ahead; pulling back on them engages breaks. Users turn by pushing forward on one lever while pulling back on the other. The levers can be removed and stored under the seat for users who want to push the chair hand-to-wheel.
"Through the snow, first and second gear work great," Rackley said. "When it's dry in the woods, I can pretty much go anywhere."
Rackley assembles the chairs at his home but an outside company makes the frames and another provides powder coating. He buys the wheels from a bike shop. Everything, he says, is "top of the line" and the chair sells for $3,995.
While content to provide chairs direct to users, he's also interested in working through providers. Making the chair is one thing; selling them, he said, "is all new to me."