unclemikeMany wheelers, prior to sustaining a spinal cord injury or whatever else put them in a wheelchair originally, were active people who spent much of their time enjoying outdoor recreation. More and more of us are rejoining our families and friends in those same outdoor pursuits using all-terrain vehicles or utility vehicles. The main difference between the two is that UTVs can haul at least two people, seated side by side, and some can handle cargo, while ATVs are mainly for personal use.

Dave and Laurie Wall, of Sandpoint, Idaho, own two Polaris ATVs that they ride on mountain trails in the neighboring Selkirk and Cabinet mountain ranges, usually with friends who also drive ATVs. Riding in groups to share the outdoor experience provides added safety in the event of mechanical problems, accidents or medical emergencies. Dave has some mobility loss related to MS, so walking to get help is out of the question.

Rory Calhoun scans the Washington Cascades for big game.

Rory Calhoun scans the Washington Cascades for big game.

The Walls spend winter months in Arizona, where off-roading is very popular. Near the retirement community where they stay in Mesa are ATV clubs that regularly schedule rides to visit old mining areas, great restaurants and scenic viewpoints on wilderness trails. “Since our ATVs are four-wheel drive, we manage steep terrain, cross shallow rivers and streams and even travel through snowy areas at elevations above 7,000 feet,” says Dave.

Newly-issued Americans with Disabilities Act rules governing “other power-driven mobility devices” should result in the opening of many more trails, backcountry roads and recreation areas to ATVs and UTVs. Areas that have previously banned entry of vehicles with internal combustion engines may now be open for people with disabilities, with some restrictions if the environment or other visitors would be endangered by their use of these vehicles.

Dru Blocker drives his Polaris UTV in the desert hills.

Dru Blocker drives his Polaris UTV in the desert hills.

Some ATV drivers were injured initially while riding or racing motorcycles, yet they continue to drive ATVs or UTVs in racing events or in desert environments. Dru Blocker, a T4 para from Jamul, Calif., injured in a 1998 motocross racing accident when he was a high school senior, would like to get back into racing but is sticking to recreational riding for now. He enjoys riding his Polaris RZR XP900 UTV in nearby deserts or on muddy hills, and the only modification he needed was the addition of hand controls.

Some other UTV models also have accelerator and brake pedals located on the floor, but they readily accept the same types of hand controls used in a family car or van. Eddie Riveira, owner of Absolute Mobility in Woodinville, Wash., has installed dozens of hand controls in everything from ATVs to golf carts and similar utility vehicles during the past 30 years. He says it is possible to accommodate the needs of anyone capable of using hand controls.

Honda, pioneer in the ATV field, produced models that required no modifications, even without the use of legs. The Honda Odyssey, sold from 1977 to 1989, had accelerator and brake controls mounted on the steering wheel. That model is still prized for its speed and “fun factor,” according to Patrick Cottini, a C7 quad from Chico, Calif. His Odyssey will reach speeds in excess of 60 mph, which seems faster when seated so close to the ground while driving through the desert, or at a much slower pace on the national forest roads and trails near his home.

Honda followed the Odyssey with a UTV that also came with basic controls mounted on the steering wheel: the Pilot. Like its predecessor, the Pilot was only manufactured for a limited time, 1989 and 1990. Despite that short lifespan, its speed and built-in roll cage made it very popular. They are still driven for recreation or racing today.

Patrick Cottini on ATV ride in Northern California

Patrick Cottini on ATV ride in Northern California

Steve “Wheels” Bucaro, of Palmdale, Calif., was broadsided on his motorcycle while delivering pizzas in 1998. Now paraplegic, he drives his ‘89 Honda Pilot for desert recreation and also races it in an off-road series where he has won four championships. He is hoping that his success in his current racing class will earn him recognition and sponsorships needed to step up to more powerful vehicles.

Washington State’s Rory Calhoun epitomizes the type of individual who did not let his T12 spinal cord injury deter him from returning to one of his favorite sports: hunting. Shortly after his 1983 auto accident, he and his family members began exploring how he could return to some favorite hunting spots where his new wheelchair could not travel. While on a short trip from the rehab ward, still wearing a body cast, family members took him to a nearby motorsports dealership and loaded him on an ATV for a test ride across the back parking lot.

For that first ride, they had to tape Calhoun’s feet to the foot pegs. He could not shift it out of first gear. His brother-in-law, a welder, purchased the ATV and modified the foot rests so Calhoun’s feet would not slip off, added a long gearshift lever and a backrest and roll bar for security. His wife and other family members also purchased three more ATVs so that they could all hunt together that fall.

Since that initial test drive on a small 125cc ATV, Calhoun has worked his way through ever more powerful models: a Honda 200 two-wheel drive, then a Suzuki 250cc four-wheel drive with a winch. In 2000 he bought the 500cc Suzuki “Quadmaster” he drives today. He likes the four-wheel drive and low/high range but has his eye on an 800cc model that seats two and is equipped with power steering.

Much of Calhoun’s hunting is for deer and elk in rugged mountains, so he has continued to add accessories to his vehicles that assure he can reach the isolated areas where hunting success is most likely. Not surprisingly, some of his additions are directly related to hunting, but a winch is a must for anyone riding in the backcountry, as rugged terrain can result in the vehicle getting stuck far from outside assistance.

David Gaston, of Galveston, Texas, is also a hunter. He uses a Kawasaki 350 Prairie ATV for dove hunting. Captain Gaston, the executive director of Turningpoint Gulf Coast, paraplegic due to a 1979 motorcycle accident, is also a Coast Guard-licensed powerboat captain, sailing and kayaking instructor. It seems fitting that he is setting a good example for keeping active in the outdoors, as his organization focuses on introducing people with disabilities to outdoor recreation activities such as fishing, camping, boating, shooting sports and more.

Hunting also played a role in the life of Tallahassee’s David Jones, who was injured in a turkey hunting accident in 1988 and is now hemiplegic. After his injury he founded the Florida Disabled Outdoor Association, which encourages participation in all types of sports. Living up to his organization’s motto of “Active Leisure for Life!,” Jones drives a Can-Am ATV. The only modification he needed was a steering knob, as his ATV has an automatic transmission similar to the Honda Pilot he once owned.

Riding ATVs is an activity that can include the whole family, and Bryan King of Imperial, Calif., comes from a family who participated in desert racing while he was growing up. A 2001 accident while driving a pickup truck resulted in T3-4 paraplegia, and he has not tried racing since then. He does enjoy driving his Arctic Cat Prowler through the desert recreation areas located nearby and recommends the activity to anyone seeking fun and adventure.

There are many more choices for outdoor activities, from all-terrain wheelchairs to the eight-wheeled workhorse Argo UTVs that will haul six people plus cargo while fording rivers and traversing swampland. All are better options than sitting at home every day. As Steve Bucaro says about driving ATVs: “It is an absolute blast! Whether you ride desert sand dunes, take weekend camping trips or race like me, it is an awesome feeling of freedom!”

• Arctic Cat: arcticcat.com/atv/
• Argo: www.argoatv.com
• Can-Am: can-am.brp.com/off-road/atv.html
• Honda: powersports.honda.com
• Polaris: www.polaris.com/en-us/
• Suzuki: www.suzukicycles.com
• Yamaha: www.yamahamotorsports.com (Other vehicle brands are also available)
• Florida Disabled Outdoors Association, 850/201-2944; fdoa.org
• Turning POINT Gulf Coast, turningpointnation.org
• ADA Rules for Other Power Driven Mobility Devices, 800/514-0301; ada.gov
• Absolute Mobility, 800/376-8267; www.absolutemobilitycenter.com
• National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, 866/948-8341; nmeda.com