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Carlos and Ray in their wheelchairs
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Ralph’s Riders Members Talk About Peer Mentoring and Building Alliances for a Stronger Community


Editor’s Note:  Ralph’s Riders was launched over 10 years ago by Mayra Fornos in the memory of her late husband, Ralph, who sustained a spinal cord injury while surfing. The foundation has been dedicated to helping people with mobility impairments lead independent, healthy lives ever since. Wheel:Life writer Betsy Bailey talked with the president of the nonprofit, Carlos Benavides, and board member Ray Pizarro about their stories, their involvement with the organization, and how they serve as mentors in both formal and informal settings.

For more information on how Ralph’s Riders came about, read Love Really Does Conquer All: How Ralph and Mayra Fornos Turned Tragedy into Triumph.

Headshots of Carlos and Ray

Carlos Benavides and Ray Pizarro

Can you guys tell me a little bit about yourselves?

Ray:  I had a diving accident back in 1993 and sustained a cervical injury that left me a level C5-6 quadriplegic. I did my rehab atRay on adaptive bike Long Beach Memorial and Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Hospital. After a few years of depression and anger, I finally began moving forward and started integrating into the community by attending support groups. I eventually landed my first job for a medical supply company which led to driving again and getting married.

I decided to give back to the community by volunteering at Rancho Los Amigos & Ralph’s Rider’s Foundation as a peer mentor. I do one-on-one mentoring with in-patients who are newly injured and am also part of the patient advisory council. We’re advocates for the patients and try to help them in any way we can to find solutions for the issues they’re having. We want to make their experience as good as possible while they’re at the hospital. I then connect them with Ralph’s Riders Foundation resources and activities.

I’ve also sat on a couple of ADA boards for the Los Angeles County Commission on Disabilities. In 2008, I founded Pushrim as a social networking site for people with spinal cord injury and mobility impairments. In 2014, we converted it into a nonprofit so it could be self-sustaining.

Carlos:  I’m a C2 to a T1 tetraplegic. Like Ray, I’m a Ralph’s Rider’s peer mentor at Rancho Los Amigos and co-chair the patient advisory council as well. I am also one of the artists at the hospital. Outside of Rancho, I’m the president of the Los Angeles County Commission on Disabilities. I’m also the president of Pushrim Foundation and Ralph’s Riders. I sit on a few other boards and am the vice president of SCILC board of directors.

Carlos sitting in front of a wall of his and other people's artwork

It sounds like you two do a lot together! How long have you known each other?

Carlos:  If you see one of us at Rancho, you’ll see the other. They call us Batman and Robin and the Dynamic Duo here.

We met about seven or eight years ago, but spiritually, we’ve known each other our whole lives.

How did you get involved with Ralph’s Riders?

Carlos:  We’ve known Mayra for a while, and she helped us with Pushrim when we first started out. Recently, we decided to form an alliance because Ralph’s Riders and Pushrim have similar goals.

If we can bring other nonprofits together that serve the same community, we become a village instead of just a small group. We become stronger.

Our alliance has since grown to over eleven businesses and organizations which all have the same vision:  to provide guidance and resources to individuals that help ease the challenges of transitioning into a new life as a wheelchair user or a person with mobility impairments.

Guys with Pushrim shirts

Carlos, you’re the president of Ralph’s Riders. Can you tell me what that entails?

Carlos:  To be honest with you, I look at it as a title because if it weren’t for the rest of the team, it wouldn’t work. One person can’t do anything.

Ray, what’s your role with Ralph’s Riders?

Ray:  I sit on the board and give my two cents when we have new projects. I also participate in outreach and other duties that need to get done for any upcoming projects.

What are the future goals for Ralph’s Riders?Mayra & Carlos

Carlos:  We are currently working on an Abilities Arts Show Fundraiser which will exhibit work by artists who are disabled giving them exposure and an opportunity to sell their creations. Funds raised at this event will benefit our scholarship program as well as the artists. We are also seeking sponsors to help us continue offering assistance to individuals with SCI and mobility issues to cover costs for things such as hand controls in their vehicle or repairs to their wheelchair.

Ray:  We have a really great program called Law & Resource Day which offers information about legal rights for victims of personal injury cases or ADA violations. Attendees also have the opportunity to ask any legal questions they may have. We’d like to establish a steady schedule for these workshops and bring them to more rehabilitation centers to make sure people with disabilities are aware of their rights. Our Law & Resource Days are hosted by Fornos Law Firm, and we partner with AbleThrive and other speakers in the community.

These are fun networking events that also offer the opportunity for Riders to get together and make new friends.

You’re both involved with peer mentoring. Can you talk about why that’s important to you?

Ray:  When someone is being mentored, they get a lot out of seeing is believing and following by example. It helps change the vision of what someone believes is possible after a catastrophic injury. I am the perfect example. When I got injured, I thought I’d never be able to drive again. Then, I ran across a person with my level of injury and saw him jump in his van and drive away. That just blew my mind, and I saw that, yes, it’s possible for me to drive again one day. It gave me a goal to achieve.

Mentoring doesn’t necessarily have to be done in a formal program.

We mentor all the time, not only to patients and family members but also to people of the public.

When someone asks us out of curiosity why we’re in a chair, we thrive on it because we can give them a crash course about our injury and maybe touch upon some etiquette and sensitivity training at the same time.

A young main in a wheelchair next to Ray Pizarro in his wheelchair at an expo

Carlos:  As advocates, Ray and I believe that there are only two types of people in this world. There are people who are disabled and there are TABs. A TAB is a temporarily able-bodied person. Either by age, illness, or an accident, we’re all going to end up using a wheelchair or other mobility device. Our goal is that by the time you or a family member transitions there, we’ve made it easier for you to overcome your challenges.

We’re not doing this for us, we’re doing it for the younger generations.

We are always looking for volunteers to help grow our Peer Mentoring & Career Coach Programs which are open to anyone who needs a little extra help transitioning or identifying their new direction in life as a roller.

Carlos by a sign that says "End MS Forever"

Is there anything else you’d like to share with Wheel:Life readers?

Carlos:  It’s important to stay socially and physically active. Ralph’s Riders Foundation has plenty of resources to keep people moving and motivated. Follow us on social media and check out our website to hear about upcoming events and ways you can get involved.

Ray:  We are really humbled by the opportunity to partner with Wheel:Life and share our stories. We strongly believe that we can inspire and motivate people through the things we are doing as individuals and as an organization.

We want to be good advocates and the voice of hope for those in need.

Editor’s Note:  For more information on the programs and resources offered by Ralph’s Riders, visit RalphsRiders.org. Follow @ralphsridersfoundation on Facebook for announcements on upcoming events.

About the Author

betsy-bailey-headshot

Betsy Bailey has a diverse background that includes experience in marketing research, business operations, travel and culinary writing, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.

Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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, ...

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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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