Community, Local, Nature, Organizations, Park Forest, Recreation

Forest Preserve’s All-Terrain GRIT Wheelchair Opens ‘A Whole New World’ for People With Disabilities


Will County, IL—(ENEWSPF)—Kim Kosmatka buckled her seatbelt, grabbed two handlebar levers of the GRIT wheelchair, and pulled and pushed her way into nature on a recent visit to Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon.

The Mokena resident was the first to test the newly acquired GRIT Freedom Chair, purchased by the Forest Preserve District of Will County. The chair is free for members of the public to use and is designed to help those with disabilities better explore the natural surface trails in the surrounding McKinley Woods—Kerry Sheridan Grove.

GRIT Wheelchair: Rolling Over Grass, Mud, and Roots

During her test, Kosmatka rolled over grass, roots, and mud, admiring spring wildflowers and reaching a river view. She said the chair was comfortable and secure. For Kosmatka, the GRIT Freedom Chair provides just that—freedom. Suffering from multiple sclerosis for more than 40 years, the 65-year-old said it’s one thing to have an accessible site. However, it’s another to offer people the independence to move around nature on their own.

“I think it’s wonderful that you have this option,” she said. “I can’t access trails with the wheelchair I have now. … And this one, I can. I’ve never been in this chair before, and it’s thrilling. Being this close to the river is awesome, and I did it alone. It’s neat. It’s definitely a whole new world.”

GRIT Wheelchair Means Nature for all

The chair is just the latest in the District’s accessibility advancements. These include an accessible kayak launch at Lake Chaminwood Preserve in Channahon, an All-Persons Trail at Four Rivers, and Four Rivers’ accreditation by the National Inclusion Project.

The chair provides a design that allows for trips on natural surface trails, said Jerome Gabriel, facility supervisor at Four Rivers. Instead of grabbing push rims on a wheelchair, chair users push forward on the handlebar levers for propulsion. There is a footrest to strap down the feet. Mounted on the back of the chair is an anti-tip bar. The Spartan model, the newest chair version, has wider tires and a more robust gear system.

People of all ages can use the new wheelchair, and those with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, joint conditions, amputations, cerebral palsy, and more, according to Medford, Mass.-based GRIT.

Visitors may check out the GRIT wheelchair at the front desk at Four Rivers on a first-come, first-served basis when the visitor center is open. While there are no reservations over the phone, you can call ahead to see if the chair is available. For more information on using the chair, visit the FAQs posted online at ReconnectWithNature.org

Getting back outdoors

Wheelchairs that can traverse natural terrain make all the difference, said Brian Swift, an accessibility proponent who started Swift Outdoor Accessible Recreation (SOAR), a non-profit that provides funds to purchase outdoor accessibility equipment for people with disabilities.

Swift of Mokena became a quadriplegic around 40 years ago. At 17, someone tackled him while playing football with friends the day after Christmas. He broke his neck.

“When you get hurt, it’s not just that you can’t walk,” Swift said. “You lose the freedoms and all the things that you did before.”

Outdoor activities bring balance to people’s lives, he said. Having adaptive sports equipment helps people get back into nature.

“The GRIT chair is going to open a lot of doors for people to get back into enjoying the things they used to enjoy,” he said. “… The chair will service many people with many different ailments and get them back outdoors.”

From impossible to possible

For Kosmatka, her outing at McKinley Woods on a beautiful spring day gave her a hint of fun adventures to come.

“Many places are hard out in nature for me,” she said as she sat in the GRIT Freedom chair looking out at the Des Plaines River. “When (a path) is not paved, it’s impossible. So, this affords a lot of opportunities.”


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