Colten’s journey to FreeWheel freedom!October 1, 2022
By Kate Pojeta
In May of 2019, we took our boys on a scout camping trip in Michigan. Knowing how difficult maneuvering a wheelchair is on natural ground and being familiar with the area we were placed in for the camping trip (the accessible lodging area was not available), we knew Colten”s wheelchair wouldn’t cut it and that keeping up by walking would be an overwhelming challenge and result in a lot of piggy-back carries. We decided that we would bring his Power Wheels Wild Thing ‚ a ride-on toy that certainly took the Spina Bifida community by storm in 2016 when it came out and we purchased one as a gift for Colten for his birthday in October 2018. While on a hike, we took that with us and it still required driving it to the trail head, which then had a three-inch cement step‚ down to the slightly more accessible trail (not very accessible right from the start). In the end, I had Colten on my back and it took two other adults to carry the Wild Thing that had quickly run out of battery on the trail. If you have ever dealt with Power Wheels vehicles, you know the battery alone weighs in solid; now add the actual vehicle to that and I appreciate the help the other parents provided us that day to no end.
That camping trip put things in motion. We wanted to be able to camp and hike with a little more ease. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy or simple, but we wanted to be able to let Colten more freely get around with his friends on these adventures and clearly, that didn’t happen on this trip. We wanted to do better for him.
I started looking into something I had seen in passing on various blogs or websites of other wheelchair users and a wheel that could supposedly cover all terrains called the FreeWheel. Through further searching, we stumbled upon the GoHawkeye Grant and on July 17, 2019, Colten was a very excited grant recipient, which allowed him to get a FreeWheel from Living Spinal at no cost to our family.
While the FreeWheel arrived in August of 2019, we were still waiting on adjustments to Colten’s wheelchair footplate so that the FreeWheel would clip on. Those of you reading may be familiar with such adjustments, insurance companies, orders and more. Colten asked repeatedly throughout the process when things would get fixed so he could use his new wheel and it was disheartening that it took so long. Then we were in the midst of a pandemic, and nothing happened for months. It was JULY 2, 2020, when we finally got his footplate replaced and Colten could use the FreeWheel.
Colten quickly learned how to turn and maneuver the wheel over and around things and his brothers said it was even easier to push and help him. Due to life in pandemic times, we look forward to more adventurous days and opportunities to take the FreeWheel out. This summer though, our boys spent some time going to a nearby park and the FreeWheel allowed the older two to take Colten with them because he could more easily traverse neighborhood sidewalks and crossing the road. He didn’t have to push as hard, so he lasted longer distances before needing help. It was the first time he was allowed to hang out with the “big kids” without mom or dad around! When it’s easier for him, it’s easier for his brothers and easier for us. It’s a simple wheel that can give people in wheelchairs an opportunity to adventure out to places they may have struggled getting to before.
The look on Colten’s face when he came home from these adventures with his brothers was heartwarming. He was happy, proud, and more independent. We are looking forward to an upcoming trip where we will be in a cabin in the mountains and expect the wheel to be in constant use that week, helping Colten get around and play with his siblings in a much easier way.
Thank you FreeWheel for designing a product that is easy to use, adaptable for years of growth spurts and accessible for many different wheelchairs and thank you to GoHawkeye for the grant!
That is incredibly ironic because we were JUST talking about when we first got it, the pandemic, and how we didn’t get to use it much and now we use it a LOT. AND he recently had surgery that is requiring him to remain in the wheelchair for mobility for a number of weeks and we use it to lessen the bumpiness of any wheeling outside.
Pojeta Family Update as of 8/13/2022
We’ve now had the FreeWheel for almost three years, although it definitely took a while to get his wheelchair adjusted in the beginning to accommodate it. NOW we know and when he got his new wheelchair, we made sure it would properly allow us to connect the FreeWheel. In fact, we just had adjustments made to his chair and one option for growing parts of it was moving the footplate in a way that would NOT allow use of the FreeWheel so we immediately said no and had them revisit the other options.
During the summer, our kids like to walk to a nearby playground or the local grocery store and it is far easier to navigate even our standard sidewalks using the FreeWheel over relying on the front casters. It’s easier for Colten’s siblings to push him, it’s easier to traverse sidewalk bumps and cracks and the occasional sidewalk-in-repair-and-full-of-rocks segments too!
Colten is 9 now and you can see from the two more recent photos here that he’s used the FreeWheel in various terrains and weather and with multiple wheelchairs. It helped us through the winter when we would go sledding, getting him easily from unpaved parking areas to the tops of sledding hills. We’ve taken it along to local events recently – the Grand Prix on Belle Isle and the Selfridge Air Show – where we had combinations of grassy areas and paved sidewalks to traverse. It helped us navigate all of those places more easily and helped him navigate more independently.
This summer and fall, as he recovers from significant hip surgeries and is unable to weight-bear for a number of weeks after each surgery, we have found it’s just standard to use it outside all the time. The larger wheel and broader base it provides for his wheelchair means bumps are less painful for his hips as we go for neighborhood walks. In fact, we were just chatting about it on a walk the other day as I explained to him that one of the reasons I love this wheel is that he can have it for the rest of his life and attach it to any wheelchair he has! He was glad to hear that and expressed how much it helps him move around outside.
We are very grateful we received this grant for Colten and we recommend the wheel to everyone that inquires about it. Young or old, the freedom it provides in a world that is not built for wheelchairs is incredible. It reduces the stress of trying to make a wheelchair go where we want it to go, and allows us to simply enjoy going everywhere we want to go.