Adaptive bike helps local disabled veteran exercise

By: Sayuri Powell
April 21, 2017
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Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

John McPherson wanted to visit Scotland, and the best way he had to get there as a member of the United States Navy was on a submarine.

He got to go there three times. He visited 11 other countries as well during his 1983-92 stint in the Navy. In his five years on the Sea Devil, a "fast attack boat" based out of Charleston, S.C., the now 55-year-old Adairsville, Ga., resident averaged 283 days on board.

Trouble is, he's 6-foot-7 and the sub was built for people about 5-8. There were only two places on the craft where he could stand without stooping, and that ultimately wrecked his back.

Doesn't the Navy have size restrictions?

"If you volunteer, they take you, and I wanted to go to Scotland," McPherson said on April 10, just before he went on the twice-a-month ride with Chattanooga's group of disabled riders at the Tennessee Riverpark.

This time he was on his brand-new, bright, bright red-orange Catrike three-wheeler that had been custom fitted by Signal Mountain resident Art Hagood of Easy Chair Bikes. Riding alongside him was his 21-year-old daughter, Heather, who got her own Catrike for Christmas.

McPherson is one of five veterans who ride regularly on the second and fourth Mondays of each month in the program conducted by Sports, Arts & Recreation of Chattanooga — a chapter of Disabled Sports USA — and the city of Chattanooga's therapeutic recreation division. The rides begin at 6 p.m. and end before dark.

The next one is Monday.

Four of the veterans have their own adaptive bikes now, SPARC's Debbie Hightower said, but her organization and the city both provide a variety of three-wheel recumbent bikes, hand cycles and tandem bikes for anyone who wants to come along. They just need to know ahead of time who plans to be there, so they can have enough bikes and volunteers.

Potential volunteers and riders should email Hightower at got2runrunrun@yahoo.com, or the riders can contact Elaine Adams at adams_e@chattanooga.gov or 697-1345. According to the SPARC website, riders must be able to understand and follow basic directions, apply brakes to come to a full stop and stay on a trail with a volunteer. They cannot have medical issues, such as seizures, that could endanger them, and anyone who's had a traumatic brain injury must be at least a year past that injury.

McPherson found out about the city's therapeutic recreation programs through his daughter's annual participation in Chattanooga Zoo Camp — "since she was a little girl," he said.

His troublesome back became a disabling condition about nine years ago, when he "was moving something and tweaked it," and it came to be that riding a special bike was the only exercise he could do that didn't hurt his back. Plus it's a great activity to share with Heather.

He tried for years to get help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in buying an adaptive bike, but not until he was put on permanent disability was he able to make the purchase.

Three days after Hagood finished his extensive adjustments — including "an extra long boom," McPherson noted — he took a 30-mile ride on it. He waited that long only because it rained the first two days.

"Last year was his first year with us," Hightower said. "We had him in a Sun Delta (bike), but then he tried a Catrike and that worked better. But he's 6-7 and we really didn't have one to fit him. I'm so glad he's got this one, and I'm so glad Art Hagood was able to help him with it.

"John is a really nice man, and we really like having him and his daughter ride with us. Roger Knipp is the volunteer who usually rides with him, and Rogers brags about much he enjoys riding with John."

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.


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