Chris Saunders was 30 years old and hunting with his dad in 2011 when his life changed forever. “I was up in the tree stand and the whole tree fell,” said Chris. “It’s not like the stand broke. It all landed on top of me. Thankfully my dad heard the noise because I couldn’t yell for help. The impact broke my sternum, ribs, and T-11 [vertebrae]. I was messed up.”
The accident paralyzed him. At that point, Chris’s wife Sheena was three months pregnant with their first child, Molly who is now 8 years old and winning 5K races regularly. “I’m lucky that our family is resilient enough. I know the statistics and these things often end in divorce.”
One of the things that has enabled them to stay together is being outside as a family. Chris has adaptive mountain hand-cycle to ride alongside them as they walk or ride bikes. As Molly gets older, she has been able to ride on increasingly challenging terrain and Chris struggles to keep up. He applied to the IM ABLE Foundation for a grant to retrofit an electronic assistance battery to his bike, an upgrade that costs nearly $3,000. He was presented with the bike Tuesday, May 19, 2020.
“The e-assist is a game changer,” said Chris Kaag, founder and executive director of IM ABLE. “I have one on my hand-cycle now and I can keep up with even the fastest riders. I used to ride with people and they’d go out and have to turn around to come back to get me.”
The upgrade was made possible through a donation from Tom and Elaine McDevitt who also chose to purchase a second bike for Andrew Kutch, a 27-year-old man with down syndrome. Andrew’s bike was presented to him before the Covid-19 shutdown, on March 14, 2020.
“He loves his new bike,” said his mother, Bernadette. “We go outside every day the weather is nice. My husband Paul and I take our bikes and ride along with him. He tried a two-wheel bike a number of years ago and could never get the hang of things. There were too many things going on. With the three wheels, he doesn’t have to think about balancing on top of everything else. This was such great timing with this virus because he wouldn’t have been able to get out nearly as much. We’re excited to get out on some longer trails but there’s too many people on them right now. I love to ride and used to go with a friend or alone, but now we can do it together as a family.”
“As an individual, Chris has a ‘get it done’ attitude, and that’s rare, said Tom. “His adaptive needs are also rare. Those two combined, it’s something special. What you see at IM ABLE, the lesson is trying and failing until you try and succeed. We don’t succeed without trying, it’s a life lesson. It’s just illustrated so well in the IM ABLE philosophy. You don’t have to have adaptive needs to get that. There’s so much demand to provide opportunity and unfortunately the equipment is expensive. Chris [Saunders] said to me that he feels lucky. Well, Elaine and I both feel lucky to be able to provide these families with the opportunity. I like that it’s a simple way to help them realize their dream. They have the desire, the motivation, they just need the opportunity.”
“Tom and Elaine did so much for our family,” said Chris Saunders. “The time that we’re in right now, it’s special that a stranger would go above and beyond to help someone in need. I can’t even put it into words.”
The mission of the IM ABLE Foundation is to remove obstacles that prevent people from being physically active by providing grants, resources, fitness opportunities and motivation. We change attitudes about the potential of individuals with physical, cognitive, and/or behavioral challenges by redefining what is possible. For more information or to support IM ABLE’s mission to provide opportunities for people with adaptive needs, please go to https://imablefoundation.org.