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Adaptive wheelchair takes physically disabled to nature trails around the world

Posted at 1:58 PM, Dec 07, 2021

BEND, Ore. — Patrik Nabelek lives with muscular dystrophy, but he loves to get outside.

“There's one thing to look at kind of nature stuff from afar, but it's another to kind of get really get in there," Nabelek said. "And so, I hope a lot of other people will get the same opportunity I have had.”

Muscular dystrophy is a genetic disease that leads to muscle weakness over time, which is why he gets around in his power wheelchair.

“When I was younger, I used to do lots of outdoor stuff, like I used to go skiing and did some hiking and stuff," Nabelek said. "But then, as I got older and the disease got more severe, I couldn’t do that anymore. A real good change for me was when I got a nice power chair that allowed me to get out and go outside, like, go on kind of long walks on paved and stuff.”

The vast majority of nature trails aren’t paved, limiting Nabelek on his outdoor excursions until his mother, Anne Trehu, found out about AdvenChair.

“We’ve taken it to the coast. We’ve taken it on a number of trails around town here," Trehu said. "Narrow, muddy trails that were totally inaccessible for the power chair.”

AdvenChair is an adaptive, human-powered wheelchair designed to help people with physical disabilities get outside. The current design of AdvenChair is version 3.0. The first version was built in 2016. It was inspired and created by Geoff Babb.

“It means a lot for me, to me, to help people be outside,” Babb said.

Geoff Babb has experienced two strokes and now lives with quadriparesis, which means he experiences weakness in all four limbs. We first met him in 2020 when he was at the hospital for a medical emergency. Back then, there was only one AdvenChair. But now, 10 more have been built and sold to people like Nabelek.

“Despite all these setbacks, the pandemic and health and weather, we're really happy with where we are,” Babb said.

Now, there are AdvenChairs from coast to coast with one making it all the way to Machu Picchu. Babb says a couple from Los Angeles reached out to him with the desire to take the chair to the iconic spot.

“They were just ecstatic," Babb said. "Nelly is from Peru, but she’s never been to Macchu Picchu and so for her to be able to take Robert, her husband, who had a stroke, take him to Macchu Picchu in the chair, it was it's a big moment for them.”

Babb says they were able to use AdvenChair for everything—from getting on planes, trains, and buses to the Macchu Picchu trail. That’s one of the benefits of the latest design. It’s convertible to be used indoors and outdoors.

“We got this, in part, to travel to New Zealand, because power chairs and airplanes don’t mix very well, and with this front wheel off, it does serve as a regular wheelchair,” Trehu said.

As a professor in earth, oceanic and atmospheric sciences, Trehu says she hopes AdvenChairs can eventually help students with physical disabilities get out in the field for research. It’s something that could be happening very soon as Babb and his team ramp up for another production of AdvenChairs in 2022.

“Soon after the pandemic, we’ll get the chair out as much as possible and get more exposure and get as many smiles on faces as we can,” Babb said.