All-Terrain Wheel Chair Brings Purpose to Vietnam Veteran
In September of 2016, the Hotes Foundation gifted United States Air Force veteran Larry Cooper with his very own Tracfab All-terrain wheelchair (See video here), one of over 80 such chairs the Hotes Foundation has delivered to wounded veterans. This week, we stopped by Larry’s house to follow up with him and his chair.
“I’ve used the hell out of it!” Larry says when asked about the tracked chair. “I use it almost every day! That’s how I get around.” When the Hotes Foundation checked up on Larry, we could see that he had been up to much more than just riding around his property.
Larry’s house rests on a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound where on clear days you can see Mount Rainer, Mount Adams, and the neighboring islands. “There’s such a serenity in the view and the water. It’s nice and calm. It really helps with my PTSD,” says Larry. After Larry purchased his property 7 years ago, the weeds overtook the yard, leaving no place to relax and really enjoy the view. Larry dreamed of landscaping the property and create a place where he and his loved ones could enjoy the outdoors. However, his injuries had progressed considerably and his dream seemed out of reach.
Larry was only 19 when he was injured while serving with the United States Air force in Vietnam as a crash and rescue firefighter. While Larry was working on the tarmac, a mortar impacted a helicopter while taking off, causing an explosion directly above his head. The explosion sent a large piece of debris towards Larry, crushing his back. Over the years, because of this injury, Larry has extensive nerve damage in his right leg and has undergone over 20 surgeries between his leg and his spine. In early 2015, an infection spread across Larry’s body that nearly killed him. He spent an entire year in a V.A. hospital, leaving the hospital in a manual wheel chair. “I thought my life was over; this was how I was going to spend the rest of my life.”
Near the end of Larry’s time at the hospital, a nurse happened to mention the Hotes Foundation’s Track Chair Program for wounded veterans. He applied online for a track chair and was approved. “The Hotes Foundation contacted me and asked when they could drop it off. I was shocked! Suddenly a whole new world opened up to me!”
Immediately after Richard Hotes and several volunteers delivered the track chair to Larry, his dream to landscape his property reawakened. “All of a sudden I could get from point A to point B. I felt empowered!” Larry borrowed his neighbor’s tractor to clear out the weeds and flatten his lawn. He then used the track chair for the manual labor. “I attached a hitch to the back of the track chair and then attached a little red wagon. I load the materials in the back, take them to where I need them, and then unload them by hand.” Larry can only stand for short periods of time before it becomes too painful. “I couldn’t have taken on this project without my track chair,” he says.
Today, Larry is more than half way done with his landscaping project and plans to work on it everyday until it’s complete. So far he’s flattened the land, installed the wall, built a fire pit, and is almost done installing the sprinkler kit. He plans on installing grass and putting benches around the fire pit. “It’s going to be fun when we can sit out here, make s’mores and cook salmon fillets!” Larry tells his wife as they both overlook the new backyard.
“The one word that describe how I feel: Purpose. You gotta have purpose. That’s what this chair did for me. It gave me purpose. I love working outside and creating things.” Larry adds, “I’m not done yet! I’ll always find something to do.”
When his wife, Carolyn, jokingly asks Larry who’s going to mow the lawn, he replies, “I’m going to figure out a way to attach the mower to the track chair and mow it myself!”
To Larry Cooper and all of our Veterans, we at the Hotes Foundation want to thank you for your service and sacrifice. Meeting you and learning your stories has truly been an honor, and we hope that these track chairs will bring independence and mobility back into your lives.