Before the accident, he loved to hunt, fish, hike, watch wildlife, target shoot and camp.
But in the last six months, he has questioned whether it would even be possible to do any of those outdoor activities ever again without being able to use his legs to walk.
You see, my son-in-law, Tyler Nichols, of Omaha, NE, while serving with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC, was involved in a horrific motor vehicle accident on Father’s Day, June 19, 2016. The accident nearly costed him his life and left with him with a traumatic spinal cord injury.
But now, thanks to an all-terrain wheelchair provided generously by the Friends in Service of Heroes (F.I.S.H.) organization, Tyler is one of a growing number of physically-challenged veterans and people with disabilities who are going to get back to doing what they have passionately enjoyed outdoors.
F.I.S.H., founded in 2013, offers services and help to U.S. military veterans across the country.
From Left to Right, a member of F.I.S.H., Tyler and Staff Sgt. Michael Horn pose for a photo with the all-terrain, off-road, electric wheelchair. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Credit for obtaining the wheelchair is due to many.
It began with U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Horn of Fort Riley, KS. He was contacted by F.I.S.H. President, Paul Chapa, and told him about Tyler. F.I.S.H. fundraising efforts for Tyler’s chair were initiated and successfully completed, thanks to longtime broadcaster/podcaster and Kansas City, MO radio personality, Rob Carson. Arrangements were then finalized with Paul and his organization for my son-in-law to receive the chair. The Vietnam Veterans of America graciously offered their meeting hall in Kansas City, MO to host a ceremony on Monday, December 19 where F.I.S.H. presented two of these specialized electric wheelchairs to disabled veterans — one to Tyler and another to a Vietnam Veteran.
The chair. The chair is really something. It’s quite impressive.
Resembling a miniature army tank, this electric wheelchair can travel nearly anywhere off road — through mud, snow, sand, gravel, tilled corn fields, woody debris, leaf matter, taller grass and in shallow water. With its high-torque motor, this mean machine can even go up and down hills, no problem!
The innovative Action Trackchair, designed and manufactured by Action Manufacturing of Marshall, MN, combines features of snowmobiles and ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) with electric wheelchair components. The tracks (or treads) used are similar in design and quality to snowmobile tracks.
The wheelchair is controlled by a joystick. It has the capability to move at speeds of up to 3-4 mph. Two batteries on the chair allow for a variable range of up 10 miles. The chair can be tilted to maintain proper balance on uneven terrain.
One of the biggest fears people with disabilities have in their standard wheelchairs have is falling out of them. This chair though comes equipped with a tilt so when motoring up and down hills, the person can maintain their balance because the chair remains level.
The electric off-road wheelchair can be adjusted comfortably to fit any individual. Accessories such as a fishing rod holder and gun mount have been added to the chair. Headlights are affixed to it. A spacious tote bag is attached to it. And, a vehicle carrier is supplied for it.
Blending in to virtually any landscape or habitat type during a hunt with this quiet, mechanized unit is not an issue either. The chair comes with a black and camouflaged paint job!
The ability to head off-road in one of these high-tech, adaptive chair is a tremendous holiday gift for Tyler. He is eternally grateful for the unique, custom-made chair that has been given to him! “I am so thankful to F.I.S.H., Paul Chapa, Rob Carson, Sgt. Horn, the Vietnam Vets and everyone else who helped make it possible for me to get this chair so I can eventually get outside to hunt and fish,” he said.
Tyler is continuing his therapy, and in the near future the Action Trackchair will allow him to return to doing what he loves most — hunting and fishing, according to his wife, my daughter, Emma Wagner-Nichols.
“For Tyler, this special wheelchair will turn his disability into an ability, and it will mean the difference from just attending an outdoor activity or function to being fully involved in one.” she said.
“It’s going to make a huge difference and enable him to get more independence back in his life.”
A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!