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Nothing Can Stop Archery Champion Kevin Polish and His Indomitable Spirit


Editor’s Note: Thirty-two-year-old Kevin Polish has been shooting archery since the age of 3, has won 14 World Championships, holds 13 out of the 18 present archery world records and, while shooting his bow from a wheelchair, he won a gold medal with the U.S. Archery Team at the FITA (today known as the World Archery Federation) World Team Challenge in 2005.  He lives in Carmichael, Pennsylvania.

“I believe I have a God-given talent for shooting competitive archery,” Polish says. Today, Polish bowhunts, competes in competitive bowfishing and is preparing to re-launch his archery career in the 2016 tournament archery season. Kj’s PRO Archery is owned by Polish’s dad, and Polish coaches competitive archers there and is engaged to Shana Krajnak. Kevin Polish has proved that nothing can stop a champion’s spirit.

Winning Five World Archery Championships Before Age 15

Nothing Can Stop a Champion’s Indomitable Spirit with Kevin Polish 1

My dad owned Kj’s PRO Archery when I was born. He helped me draw and shoot a bow when I was only 3, since I couldn’t pull it back by myself. I shot my first full archery competition at age 11 as the youngest contestant at the IBO (International Bowhunting Organization) Youth Division Indoor World 3D Archery Championships. We shot at life-size animal targets at unknown distances. I won my first World Championship in the Youth Division, shooting ranges from zero to 50 yards, pulling a 51-pound bow.

I was often asked how I’d learned to judge distance so young, since that skill was key to shooting a bow accurately. If I knew the distance, then I could pick the sight pin to use to hit the center of the target. So, for 2 hours before and after school, I judged distance until dark. I’d shoot an arrow at the target and use our long rope measuring tape to learn the distance to the target and my arrow. I put in 4 – 9 hours per day – every day – judging distance and shooting at targets. There was no such thing as a range finder then. I enjoyed shooting my bow, competing and winning archery championships shooting with my fingers.

Fighting to Shoot with the Big Boys

At 15, I told my dad I wanted to compete in the Men’s Open Professional Archery Class to win money instead of the trophies and plaques offered in the Youth Division I wanted to be a professional archer and compete against the world’s best archers. We had to hire an attorney to talk to the various archery organizations. I had to sign paperwork that stated that any money I earned as a professional archer would go into college scholarship funds or be put in trust funds for me until I turned 18.

I became the youngest person ever to gain permission to shoot against the best adult archers in the world.

kevin team

I shot my first professional tournament held in Bedford, Indiana – the IBO first leg of the Triple Crown – placed fifth and earned a check, competing against 289 of the nation’s best archers. As a teenager, I finished the 1999 season in seventh place at the IBO World Competition, scored in the top 5 on the ASA (Archery Shooters Association) www.asaarchery.com tournament trail and finished second in the Cabela’s World Championships. I earned about $20,000 this first year. When only 16, I signed a sponsorship contract with Mathews Archery www.mathewsinc.com and picked up several other sponsors for a total of about $150,000 per year. On top of the world going into the 1999 tournament archery season, I had accomplished my dream of being a professional archer.

Experiencing a Life Changing Accident

On October 9, 1999, I went deer hunting with my friend Dale Hillberry, who is like my brother. Although Dale had arrowed a deer, we searched for 3 hours but didn’t find him. I suggested we give the buck a chance to lie down and not pressure him. But Dale wanted to stay on the trail of the deer. I returned to help my dad at the archery shop. Then another friend, Franklin Agee, came by, and we left to help Dale find his deer. Rain was coming down hard. My dad told me I should stay at the shop in that bad weather. However, I wanted to go help Dale and possibly hunt myself that afternoon.

Nothing Can Stop a Champion’s Indomitable Spirit with Kevin Polish 10

Kevin has been an outdoorsman his entire life.

About 10-miles away from the archery shop, Franklin and I turned on to a dirt road, going about 30 miles per hour. Suddenly, a flock of turkeys stood front of me. I swerved the car to the left to miss the turkeys, applied the brakes and went off the edge of the road and down a 100-foot bank. I finally got the car running straight down the bank before we hit a 2-foot stump that caused the car to jackknife and roll about 10 times down the hill.

I was thrown out of the vehicle and went about 37 feet up in the air, although I was wearing my seatbelt. The impact of the crash was so severe that the seatbelt broke and pulled out of the buckle. The tree we hit broke in half and broke my back.

When I was flying through the air, the thought popped into my mind, “Wow, this is cool. I’m flying.”

Nothing Can Stop a Champion’s Indomitable Spirit with Kevin Polish 7After I hit the ground and finally stopped rolling, I looked up, saw the sky and thought, “Well, I’m alive, and nothing hurts.” But my body felt like scalding hot water was running though my veins, and then I began hurting.

I could hear Franklin screaming. I put my hands on the ground to push myself up to go help my buddy, and I heard a pop. The only thing off the ground was my chest. The middle portion of my body was turned around, and I saw my butt. I grabbed my butt cheek and squeezed it, but I couldn’t feel anything. That’s when I realized I must be paralyzed.

Franklin was in shock, didn’t know where he was and didn’t know who I was for about 30 minutes. I was bleeding out of my mouth and my ears, and I hardly could breathe. While choking on my own blood, I told Franklin, “You have to go for help. I can’t move.” Franklin got up, walked up to the road and met up with a car about 80 yards away.

The man driving the car was one of our customers at Kj’s PRO Archery. He came down, saw me wedged in the tree and called 911 for help. The paramedics arrived shortly, but had to use the Jaws of Life to pry the tree open wide enough to get me out.

Traveling the Hard Road Back to Recovery and Archery

I stayed in the hospital from October 9, 1999, until January, 2000, because I’d broken my back from T7 to T10. Actually, I’d broken my back 6 inches apart. To repair my back, the doctors put in rods and used screws, bolts and clamps to put me back together again. Today when I go through an airport, I guess my back looks like an erector set.

For 2 weeks during my hospital stay, I didn’t speak, and I wouldn’t open my eyes. I had been at the height of my game as a world-class tournament archer, and the doctors told me I wouldn’t even be able to sit up or stand up.

Spinal cord injury is devastating to anyone. The thought of never being able to pull a bow again messed me up mentally.

Psychiatrists came in to see me. Since they knew I loved the outdoors, they told me I still could compete in various sports but never again in archery. I informed them that they were wrong, and I would start shooting my bow again.

Nothing Can Stop a Champion’s Indomitable Spirit with Kevin Polish 2I decided I’d do what I had to do to shoot the bow and compete in archery tournaments. I worked out in physical therapy 8 hours per day and often would get so tired from working out that I’d pass out. When I woke up, I’d say, “Let’s go work some more.”

Three or four months after I was released from the hospital, when I could sit up, I wanted to start shooting the bow again. However, I couldn’t hold the bow up without falling out of my wheelchair. My dad took a ratchet strap and wrapped it around my chest to enable me to sit up straight without falling over. Then he’d loosen the strap some. Finally, I got strong enough to be able to balance myself in the upright position while holding my bow. At that time and even today, I have no feeling from my chest down.

I practiced holding my bow up when I was sitting, next pulling the bow to full draw and finally reaching a point to where I could pull the bow string all the way back at 20 pounds of pull. Then I nocked an arrow on my string and shot at targets. Holding a bow was difficult since I didn’t have any balance. I had to learn how to counterbalance my body. I would lean one way and hold the bow the opposite way. I had to completely relearn how to shoot the bow with my new body. However, today, 16 years later, I can pull a 100-pound bow back to full draw with one finger.

Within 6 months of leaving the hospital, I started competing again. I went to the 2000 World Archery Tournament in Las Vegas to shoot in the Pro Division. My friends were crying with joy that I was back and were so happy to see me. This tournament had 2,800 of the world’s best archers, and my Pro Class had 850 of the greatest archers. I took second place when Jeff Hopkins beat me by one point.

Nothing Can Stop a Champion’s Indomitable Spirit with Kevin Polish 8

I went to four more World Championship contests that year, and eventually I was ranked in the top 15 archers of the world. I was able to go to those tournaments due to my sponsors. My sponsorships after my accident didn’t pay me as much as the contracts I’d had before my injury.

But I was so glad to be back in competitive archery and have sponsors who helped me with my expenses. Including gas, motel rooms, food and entry fees for me and my caregiver, out-of-pocket expenses for any tournament was about $2,000. By the end of year one, I had all my sponsorships back that I’d had before my accident and earned about $30,000 in tournament winnings.

I had other financial problems that kept me from traveling though. My dad’s store got robbed, and he’d also taken 3 months off from work to care for me after my accident. I had the skills and talent to win archery tournaments, but without the money to travel, I couldn’t maintain that high level of consistency required.

I didn’t shoot competitive archery from 2011 to 2013.  But then, I came back to competitive archery and was ranked in the top five in the world. However, the cost of tournaments and taking someone with me got so expensive that I had to drop out after the 2013 season. To earn a living as a pro archer I needed to attend 10 or 11 tournaments per year. So, I’ve stayed out of professional archery for the last 2 years and plan to return to pro archery in 2016.

Switching Sportskevin bowfishing

Two years ago a friend came into my dad’s archery shop, who wanted to buy some bowfishing equipment, and asked me, “Have you been bowfishing lately?” In the past, he knew I’d waded out in the water and taken rough fish like carp, gar and drum with my bow and arrow. I told him, “No, since my accident, wading in the water in a wheelchair is hard.”

Danny smiled and said, “Why walk in the water when you can sit on a boat and shoot? You really need to get back into bowfishing.”

About 3 days after Danny came into the shop, I decided I needed to try bowfishing. I had a pontoon boat that I could fish off of in my wheelchair. I bought some lights, put them around the front end of the boat, borrowed one of my buddy’s portable generators and bowfished at night. Friends and I go bowfishing about every other night and bowfish from dusk until about 1:00 or 2:00 am.

kevin bowfishing2

My biggest fish I’ve ever taken is a 32-pound common carp. Usually three or four guys bowfish with me on the pontoon boat on Pennsylvania’s Monongahela River. I sit on the front of the boat and lock my wheelchair. My buddies tie the wheels of my chair to the boat.

I shoot a 32-inch axle-to-axle bow made by TNT archery www.tntarchery.com. My buddies and I also compete in bowfishing championships.

I’m often asked, “What do you like about bowfishing?” Bowfishing is a challenge, and you’ll miss more fish than you hit. To shoot accurately at a fish underwater, you have to quickly and instantly determine what distance you are to the fish, how deep the fish is in the water and how far away the fish is from the boat and then make your best guess of where to aim.

Nothing Can Stop a Champion’s Indomitable Spirit with Kevin Polish 5

If I shoot 100 shots in a night, I’ll probably miss 20 percent. Bowfishing tournaments give me a way to continue to compete.

In February, 2016, I plan to return to Las Vegas for the World Archery Shoot and restart my pro archery career. At the 2005 FITA World Team Challenge – the Olympics of compound bow archers – I shot for Team USA. Our USA team won a gold medal, breaking four or five world records in that competition. We defeated the second place team by 36 points.

I was the first disabled athlete to ever compete in a World Archery Tournament against other athletes who weren’t disabled in any way.

When I rolled up to the awards stand, and the national anthem played, at that time, I realized what the national anthem meant to me, and tears came to my eyes. That moment was the greatest day of my life.

About the Author: John E. Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at www.johninthewild.com.

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Why Nurses Care About DEHP in Catheters, and You Should Too

Have you noticed a growing awareness to be conscious about eating ...

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Amputee Bob Clausen Says If You Want Something Bad Enough, You Will Do It

Editor’s Note:  Widower and Navy veteran Rober “Bob” ...

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The Ms. Wheelchair California Pageant: A Life-Changing Experience

As the Ms. Wheelchair California Leadership Institute, formerly known ...

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Comfort Conversations: Support Systems Are Key After a Life-Altering Tragedy

Having key support systems after a life-altering injury is crucial. ...

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Sheri Melander-Smith on Living Your Best Life

Editor’s Note:  Sheri Melander-Smith was born with a vascular ...

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5 Extreme Activities to Add to Your Bucket List

Have you already tried all of the typical adaptive sports available ...

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Reflections and Lessons Learned in 2017

We hope your 2017 was as enlightening and empowering as ours was here ...

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Living with MS: One Family’s Solution to Enjoying Life Events Again

Dave was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999 and for the first ...

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4 Tips to Help Teach Your Child About Self-Catheterization

At a certain age, kids will be the first to tell you that they want ...

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Winter Weather Preparedness Tips for Wheelchair Users

Are you dreading this winter season? Dealing with slushy, icy, snowy, ...

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Making Adaptive Climbing More Accessible with Arthur Torrey

Editor’s Note: When a tree-cutting accident in 2010 led to broken ...

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Barbara Cramer – 75 Years of Defying Stereotypes

Editor’s Note:  An earlier version of this post may have left the ...

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Serving the Spina Bifida Community with the SBAGNE

I serve as the executive director of the SBAGNE. One of my primary ...

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Comfort Medical is Helping People to Achieve a Healthier and Happier Lifestyle

If you’re an avid Wheel:Life reader, you may remember that we ...

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Advocating for Disability Rights with Stephanie Woodward and CDR

Editor’s Note: During a summer internship at the Center for ...

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Building Strength and Confidence with Handi Capable Fitness

Editor’s Note: A botched hernia operation during infancy left James ...

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Comfort Medical Sponsors Freedom Concepts to Help You Win An Adaptive Bike

Have you always dreamt of gliding down the street with the wind in ...

women in wheelchairs dancing at Abilities Expo
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Experience It All At the Abilities Expo!

Days are becoming shorter, nights longer, and the holiday season is ...

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ParaSportsLive: Bringing Adaptive Sports Coverage to the World

Editor’s Note:  When wheelchair user Tony Jackson’s original ...

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Introducing the New Cure Ultra Coude Intermittent Catheter for Men

Cure Medical has unveiled the new 16-inch Cure Ultra® Coude ...

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Get Ready for Rolling With Me’s Each By Name Conference

Wheel:Life, Comfort Medical, and Rolling With Me is excited to ...

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Smooth Sailing with David Gaston

Editor’s Note:  A Texas coast native, David Gaston has been in and ...

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Gain Traction This Fall with National Ramp

Summer is officially over and dreary winter weather is on its way. ...

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Wheelchair Dancers Organization Says Everybody Can Dance!

When life-long dancer Beverly Weurding was diagnosed with limb-girdle ...

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Pursuing Health and Happiness with Malaise Wheelchair Fitness

Editor’s Note: Justin Malaise grew up in small-town Wisconsin as a ...

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Former Ms. Wheelchair Illinois Continues to be a Voice for the Community

Editor’s Note: Born with spina bifida, Kim Brown has been a ...

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Dare to Discover the World of Accessible Travel With Handiscover

Editor’s Note: Sebastien Archambeaud has always loved traveling, so ...

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Made for Kids! The Pediatric Hydrophilic Cure Catheter + Free Backpack Program

Parents only want what’s best for their children and keeping them ...

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Wheeling, Driving, Bowling, Preaching, Parenting…Johnny Hudson Does It All Hands-free!

Editor’s Note: Johnny Hudson was born in 1977 with unforeseen ...

Pat Dougherty explains FreeWheel to a new fan at a recent Abilities Expo.
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The Abilities Expo is Coming To Boston!

Boston awaits with open arms. This September 8–10, head over to the ...

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Comfort Conversations: Change Starts with You – Becoming an Advocate

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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WheelchairTravel.org: Blazing the Trail Towards an Accessible World  

Editor’s Note: After sustaining severe burns during a car accident ...

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The Artfully Gifted Foundation – Serving Entrepreneurs with Disabilities

Editor’s Note: The Artfully Gifted Foundation (a non-profit) was ...

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How the SCRS-IL Can Help You Live Independently

Editor’s Note: When triple degree holder Jose Gonzalez returned ...

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Peter Arballo Never Gave Up on Himself — Neither Should You

Editor’s Note: Peter Arballo was born in Southern California to ...

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Full Speed Ahead with Endurance Racer Michael Johnson

Editor’s Note: Michael Johnson of Lansing, Michigan, started racing ...

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The Extraordinary Life of Triple Amputee Monica Vickers

Editor’s Note: Monica Vickers was born in 1954 missing both legs ...

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Rick Hayden Rolls on Capitol Hill for Your Rights

When Rick Hayden visited the US Capitol last week, he went with your ...

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Gear Up for Abilities Expo Chicago

Calling all Midwesterners — Abilities Expo is coming to Chicago! As ...

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Run, Jump, and Throw Stuff with Angel City Sports

Editor’s Note: Clayton Frech is the CEO and founder of Los ...

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Sled Hockey with Coach Koz

Editor’s Note: Sled hockey (also known as sledge hockey) is almost ...

Summer Solutions with STYLEDWEL
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Summer Solutions with STYLEDWEL

Editor’s Note: Mary Marshall, founder of STYLEDWEL, created ...

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Following Your Inner Guidance with Kristina Rhoades and How National Ramp is Helping Her Do It

Editor’s Note: Kristina Rhoades is a mom, wife, speaker, writer, ...

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Comfort Conversations: Finding Encouragement Through Peer Support Groups

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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Allen Beauchamp on Life, Love and Hockey

My name is Allen Beauchamp, and I’m 43 years old. I live in a ...

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Yoocan Get Empowered!

Editor’s Note: Inspired by a family member with disabilities, Moshe ...

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Introducing the Cure Ultra: Ready to Use Catheter for Men

Cure Medical has unveiled the new 16-inch Cure Ultra™ Intermittent ...

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Refuel and Rejuvenate At Abilities Expo New York Metro

East coasters, or anyone within striking distance, gear up for ...

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Criptaedo: Breaking Boards and Barriers

Editor’s note: Paul Brailer, aka Criptaedo, was born with spina ...

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Rolling Forward with Amputee Advocate Stella Sieber

I’m currently 63 years old and live in Durham, North Carolina. ...

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Stroke by Stroke: Moving Forward with Mallory Weggemann

Editor’s Note: At 18 years old, Mallory Weggemann walked into the ...

Margarita Cover Photo
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Comfort Conversations: Finding Your New Normal After a Spinal Cord Injury

Join us every other month for Comfort Conversations, a discussion ...

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Glenn Moscoso: Wheelchair Daddy

Editor’s note:  Glenn Moscoso is a husband and father living with ...

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Avoiding Slippery Slopes with Garth Walker and National Ramp

Editor’s Note: After selling his prior business, Garth Walker went ...

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The National Sports Center for the Disabled: Finding Self-Confidence through Personal Challenge

Editor’s Note: The National Sports Center for the Disabled, founded ...

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Wheeling around the World with Susie Twydell

Editor’s Note: Based in England, Susie Twydell, an avid traveler ...

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Amplitude Media Group: Closing the Information Gap

Wheel:Life is thrilled to announce their newest community partner, ...

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Accessible Hiking, Camping and Fishing? WOW!  

Editor’s Note: Wilderness on Wheels (WOW) is a foundation and a ...

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Comfort Conversations: Events, Free Packs, and More with James “Woody” Beckham

Editor’s Note: The Woody Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit ...

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Jenn Sexton Shares Her Secret for Independence: An Extra Long Cure Catheter

Jenn Sexton was five weeks pregnant when she and her husband, Thomas, ...

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Glen Schlotterbeck: Reinvent Yourself!

Editors note: As a graduate of the US Air Force Academy, Glen ...

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Educate, Energize, and Enlighten at Abilities Expo Los Angeles

The Abilities Expo is back in Los Angeles and gearing up to show you ...

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Juan Sebastian Betancourt: Changing the Way Businesses Serve People with Disabilities

Editor’s Note: Juan Betancourt is on a path to change the world for ...

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AccessibleIndonesia: Making Travel Accessible in a Non-Accessible Country

Editor’s note: Kerstin Beise, a German physiotherapist, who also ...

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A Lesson on Living Life to the Fullest with Hydred Makabali

Editor’s note: Hydred Makabali, born and raised in England and now ...

Up/Down Team Champions (Top L to R) Shane Hayden, Harold Collins (Seated L to R) Gary Bowling, Kenneth Hill, and Don Law
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Knocking Down The Pins of Life with Wheelchair Bowling Champion Kenneth Hill

Editor’s Note: Fifty-year-old Kenneth Hill from Plainfield, ...

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Take Your Wings and Fly with Denise Horn

Editor’s Note: Fifty-six-year-old Denise Horn of Janesville, ...

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Ashley Hutson Wilson Beat a Small Chance of Survival to Live a Full Life

Editor’s Note: Thirty-one year old Ashley Hutson Wilson from Kyle, ...

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Jam with Mel Bergman: Creator of Wheely Guitars

Editor’s Note: Mel Bergman of Camarillo, California, is the ...

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Gary “Tiger” Balletto: Champion Prize Fighter Who Rolls with the Punches

Editor’s Note: You can capture a ferocious wild tiger and put him ...

9 Robby Heisner
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Meet Robby Heisner: Creative Entrepreneur on Wheels

Editor’s Note: Robby Heisner of Smyrna, Georgia ...

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The National Rifle Association’s Adaptive Shooting Program with Dr. Joseph Logar

Dr. Joseph Logar Editor’s Note: Dr. Joseph Logar has his doctorate ...

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The Rollettes Take On an E.P.I.C. Project to Empower Others

Editor’s Note: Chances are, you’ve seen these ladies ...

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Speak Up Now to Save Your Wheelchair: Fight Medicare Cuts

Your window is narrowing to preserve access to mobility equipment – ...

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Go Further Together with GRIT: Stories of Community Support

Our friends at GRIT, the makers of the revolutionary Freedom Chair, ...

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Paralyzed Veteran’s Mom Awarded Dream Trip by ElDorado Mobility

Editor’s Note: Serving our country as a military service member is ...

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Wheelchair Karate: Attack the Attacker with Kenneth Perry

Editor’s Note: Kenneth Perry from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ...

5 Tom Cannalonga
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Ditch Your Chair to Sit-Ski the Slopes with Tom Cannalonga 

Editor’s Note: Fifty-two-year-old Tom Cannalonga lives in Edison, ...

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Welcome to Wheel:Life

We are so glad you’re here! Wheel:Life is a global initiative ...

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