Truly independence: All-terrain wheelchair could come to lakeshore

Ottawa County

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — If you head to the beach at Grand Haven State Park, you could soon see some new tracks in the sand. 

A local nonprofit is helping make the beach more accessible for everyone with the help of an all-terrain wheelchair called the Freedom Trax.

Getting around at the beach can be difficult enough. Trying to get closer to the lake in a wheelchair can be nearly impossible. 

Lori’s Voice says they’ll soon be donating the $7,000 chair to the state park, which will give people who use wheelchairs the freedom to experience more. 

“I lived in California for about 15 years and I was at the beach all the time,” beachgoer James Snowden said. “I miss that.”

Snowden can’t get much closer to the beach than the seat of his truck. He wishes he could. 

“It’s impossible … to get through the sand like that in a wheelchair,” Snowden said. “Because the wheels, they’ll sink down far and once they sink in, you’re stuck.”

Snowden lost his leg in a car crash decades ago, leaving him like many others who face mobility challenges. 

“It truly is independence. It opens up a whole new world for them when they can move on their own,” Dave Hastings, advisor of the nonprofit group Lori’s Voice, said. “It makes them somewhat “normal” because they can go do things on their own without depending on somebody. Just imagine depending on somebody for every single function of your life.”

Lori’s Voice has worked with Grand Haven State Park in the past, donating multiple beach wheelchairs, which do help persons of disability traverse the sandy beaches. However, there’s one thing they lack.

“Someone has to push them. There’s not independence. It takes two,” Hastings said. “Even those beach wheelchairs with their thick tires are easier to push, but they still take effort.”

Hastings’ better half is Lori. She has muscular dystrophy. Together, the couple makes Lori’s Voice, a nonprofit organization that helps provide equipment for children, and sometimes adults, who have neurological, muscular or other degenerative conditions. 

“It’s just really exciting to help with accessibility for everyone,” Hastings said. “We’re going to do this one, the Freedom Trax, in memory of a child that really liked the beach this year that we lost, and so we’re going do that … in his memory.”

Liam was a 12-year-old from Hudsonville who loved the beach. He died due to complications of quadriplegia, CP and epilepsy. His love of the lakeshore is part of the reason Lori’s Voice, assisted by a grant from UPS, purchased the all-terrain chair. 

“If they’re able to use their hand … they can go over and travel that beach,” Hastings said. “It will go up and down through any sand dunes. And so, it will go, it’ll get you where you need to go.”

The goal is bringing the beach back to life and making Grand Haven a better place. 

“Grand Haven is so accessible. I mean from downtown all the way to the new pier, it’s accessible. We just got to do a few more tweaks and we can have a very, very independent type, community in Grand Haven and West Michigan. It really is a gem,” Hastings said. “I absolutely love the idea of anything that adds accessibility for everyone.”

Lori’s Voice is actively working with Grand Haven State Park and hopes to have the chair available for rent by Memorial Day. Snowden, for one, is excited.

“I could go out and sit on the sand and enjoy the water,” Hastings said.

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