It takes quite a bit to steal the stage from a 6-foot-five-inch tall musician decked out in gold chains and jewelry, but when Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz took the stage in Tucson, Arizona, this August his custom wheelchair did just that. With bubblegum-pink tires, gold spokes, a pink frame that included four big chain links and a place for the rapper to rest his injured leg, pics of the wheelchair went viral. 2 Chainz Instagram post received over 66,000 likes and was shared widely across all social media platforms.
That’s the kind of publicity most companies would kill for, but for Sean Mahaney, the founder of California-based SeanCo Customs and the creator of the iconic chair, it presented a conundrum. “I’ll take the publicity,” he says. “But I absolutely hate the fact that I’ve got to tell people they have to wait six months if they want a chair.” That six-month wait is a product of two major factors. One, SeanCo is turning out some of the coolest, most unique chairs on the market, so of course lots of people want them. And two, as of right now, SeanCo is basically a two-person team: Sean and his wife Donna, and they only work on one chair at a time.
Mahaney started building custom chairs about three years ago when confronted with the steep cost of buying a sports chair for his step-daughter who has spina bifida. “There was no way I was going to be able to afford $3,000-$5,000 for a basketball chair for her,” he says. “In my mind, it never really made any sense that I could go to Wal-Mart and buy $100 bike for one of my kids, but I have to spend $1,500 for a piece of junk bike for my other kid. It just wasn’t right.”
With a background working on race cars and show cars, including a stint on the reality hit, Pimp My Ride, Mahaney adapted quickly to working with wheelchairs. “I ended up building a basketball chair for her, pretty much out of scrap parts I had laying around and old chairs I dug up,” he says. “We sent her to a week-long sports camp with it and just got an incredible reaction out of it. Everybody thought it was a professionally-built chair and done by a regular wheelchair company. And, I’m like, well, maybe I can do something like this … it just kind of took off from there. The next thing I know, every spare minute I had while I wasn’t working my regular job was building wheelchairs.”
He quit his full-time job two years ago to focus on SeanCo. Business has been good. He just took a deposit on his 80th chair and is hoping to increase production in the near future. Here are the stories behind a few of his ultra-custom builds.
This cherry red beauty was designed for a child who could only use one arm to help him get around and work on the farm where he lived. Mahaney tracked down some German spokes that would allow the user to push using one arm and added the big handle at the back so the kid’s parents could push him if they needed to. Mahaney tacked on headlights that run off a USB rechargeable battery pack, built in a detachable front wheel that provides off-road freedom similar to the FreeWheel, and added a basket where the user could carry farm goods. “There was a lot of brainstorming on how they wanted everything,” says Mahaney of the parents. “They actually shipped me a bucket that they used to put feed in for the animals, so I would make sure to build that basket big enough for the bucket.”
Chair with Motorcycle Seat
Mahaney takes pride in building chairs that are as functional and well-built as they are attractive. He designed this chair around a novel seating system aimed at improving the posture of the user, who has cerebral palsy. Mahaney modeled the seat on a saddle seating system used in Europe. He got a custom-built motorcycle seat from another company, added high-end memory foam and a custom core cushion and a deep contour back that works with the seat to keep the user in position. “That was a fun one because it essentially started by building the seat itself and then we built the wheelchair around the seat,” he says. “We probably had five or six fittings to make sure that everything was in the right position.”
When insurance told Crue’s parents that he didn’t need a wheelchair because they could just push him in a stroller, they turned to SeanCo to get him the wheels he needed. “His dad had made a couple of things and played with stuff on wheels and saw that the kid just took off as soon as you put him in something,” says Mahaney. “He’s one of the most fearless kids I’ve ever met in a wheelchair at that age.” Getting the suspension right for a fearless 3-year-old with spina bifida took some thinking. “There’s pretty much no other company that’s running a true shock without the suspension system for kids that light. But the way our unique style of suspension is, I could play with the positioning and pretty much make the shock think that a 20-pound kid is 200 pounds.”
2 Chainz Chair
Mahaney was driving home at 2 a.m. on a Friday night when he got an email titled “2 Chainz” from the rapper’s assistant explaining that 2 Chainz had broken his knee and needed a wheelchair to complete his tour. They had rescheduled five dates already, but wanted the chair for a show the coming Wednesday. “I sent a message to my wife knowing perfectly well she wouldn’t know who 2 Chainz was (Sean did). I said, Google him, this is serious.”
By 3 a.m. Mahaney was getting 2 Chainz measurements and design wishes. It had to be pink. It had to have 2 Chainz logo on it. And it had to have the same gold spokes 2 Chainz had seen on another rapper’s chair. Mahaney came up with the chain link frame and added some other design flourishes after perusing 2 Chainz albums and social media.
Mahaney finished the chair in the nick of time, rented a van and drove it to Arizona, handing it to 2 Chainz hours before the show. “He was blown away,” says Mahaney. “The thing fit him absolutely perfect. Everything was great right from the start.” Mahaney was equally impressed by 2 Chainz and his entourage. “These guys were not at all the stereotypical rappers,” he says. “I was really impressed at how professional and courteous they were.”
Editor’s Note: We were shocked and saddened to learn that on September 23, Sean Mahaney died in a three-vehicle crash while riding his motorcycle to a fundraiser for a local non-profit. Fortunately, SeanCo will live on (www.seancowheelchairs.com). “We’re definitely not going away,” said Sean’s wife, Donna. “We’ve got way too much at stake.” Friends of the family have established a GoFundMe to help his family: www.gofundme.com/we-will-miss-you-sean-mahaney.