International Day of People with Disabilities

Today is International Day of People with Disabilities! Let’s continue to thrive! #ThriveWorldwide @ablethrive

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Back in the cockpit

I have so much to be thankful for this year! From having kidney stones this Spring and being without my vehicle for nearly the entire summer, I’m still grateful for improved health and being able to have my independence back by driving my new Toyota Sienna!

The van has the latest version of the Electronic Mobility Controls (EMC) joystick system that operates acceleration, braking and steering. In the photo, the touch screen allows me to shift from park, reverse, neutral and drive.

Cockpit of my Toyota Sienna

Cockpit of my Toyota Sienna

The screen also has secondary functions like the turn signals, windshield wipers and horn. I use the wooden spoon to tap on the screen. Not pictured is a blue button on the driver’s door that can operate the touch screen. With all of this technology, it feels like I’m in the cockpit of a C-17!

With this newfound independence, I’ve been able to drive myself to work, go to meetings around town and hang out with friends. I’m also looking forward to driving to see my family for the holidays.

It feels great to be driving again. However, I have one frustration. Please do not park your vehicles or shopping carts on the access aisles (the hash-marked areas) next to a handicapped space. That space is needed for us to get our wheelchairs and other mobility aids in and out of our vehicles. I was blocked out of my van yesterday by a car parked on the access aisle and it made it extremely difficult to get into my van.

Access aisle next to handicapped parking space

Access aisle next to handicapped parking space

Even through the ups and downs, Im still thankful for good health, family and friends and a fun van to drive!

As the saying goes, “You really don’t know what you have until it’s gone”. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I encourage you to live your life with purpose and spend it with those you love!

Wishing you an abundant and Happy Thanksgiving!


Toyota Sienna SE

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Solar Eclipse 2017

If you were directly or indirectly in the path of yesterday’s solar eclipse, it was definitely a sight to witness. 

Charleston, SC, was in the path of totality, but it depended on which part of town you were in as to how well you could see the total eclipse.

I was only able to see the partial eclipse from my job in North Charleston. Dark rain clouds rolled in which blocked our view. However, it was still neat to see the daylight turn to night, then back again, all in a matter of minutes. It also felt good to feel the temperature dip slightly.

Even though I couldn’t see the total solar eclipse, my high school classmate, Jason Buck, snapped this amazing image.

If you missed seeing the eclipse in person this time, you’ll have to wait around until April 8, 2024 when it goes from Texas to Maine. 

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The Chucktown Redfish Roundup reeled in success for its first year

Two hundred people participated in Adaptive Expeditions’ inaugural Chucktown Redfish Roundup at Colonial Lake in Charleston, S.C. June 24. The event was the first universally-accessible saltwater fishing tournament held in the United States.

The Redfish Roundup was held at the 10-acre manmade lake that’s in downtown Charleston so that it was inclusive for everyone. The perimeter of the lake was lined with anglers with and without disabilities, families and children.

Forty tagged red drums were added to the lake in addition to the fish that are already in the lake that swim in from the Charleston Harbor. Only four tagged fish were caught and cash prizes were given to winners.

Adapted Rods and Reels

I particularly enjoyed looking at the different inventive ways people adapted their fishing rods using grips and attachments for their wheelchairs. Charlie, who has Cerebral Palsy, and his parents (pictured left below) has his fishing rod mounted to his wheelchair. Mark Riffle, from Columbia, S.C., has a device attached to his left arm to hold the fishing rod and he can reel in with his right hand.

Steve and Jessica Avinger traveled down from Conway, S.C. to participate in the tournament. Steve uses the Strong-Arm attachment on his right arm and he can reel with his left hand. The Strong-Arm can be purchased at a variety of retailers online. Take a look at the video below.

We are already planning for next year’s Chucktown Redfish Roundup and I’ll be sure to share the date here on my blog and my social media pages.

In addition to fishing, Adaptive Expeditions hosts several activities including kayaking and sailing trips, tennis clinics and hand cycling excursions in the Charleston area. For more information, visit


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My journey to the Toastmasters District 58 Table Topics Contest

I can’t believe I won third place at the Toastmasters District 58 Table Topics Contest! I wasn’t supposed to compete at this level, but, by a turn of events, I had the opportunity to represent my club and area in the competition in Greenville, South Carolina Friday, April 21.

Before I get to my winning moment, let’s take a look down memory lane on how I joined Toastmasters and began competing.

Toastmasters is an international public speaking organization with groups (or clubs as they are called) all over the world that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. Anyone can join these clubs in their community. I’m affiliated with Toastmasters Club 8627 at my job at SPAWAR and have been with the group for about two years.

Our club meets biweekly on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. Each meeting consists of giving a prepared speech on any given topic that range in length from five to seven minutes.

The second type of speech is called table topics. These speeches are to prepare someone to speak about an issue off the cuff or at any given moment. This speech only lasts about two minutes. All speeches are judged by your fellow Toastmasters who look for any grammar mistakes and if you stay within your allotted time.

Competing to Win

Members can take their skills to the next level by competing in the Area and Division speech contests.

At the Area level, I competed against two people from different clubs and won first place in table topics. I didn’t expect to win because I went up against some experienced Toastmasters. Here is a link to my speech from that contest.

As the winner at that level, I was able to advance to compete at the Division level. I was nervous when I gave my speech. I stumbled over my words and couldn’t get my thoughts together, so I came in last place. I was disappointed in my performance, but learned how to not give up under pressure.

The divisional level should have been the end of road for me since the first place winner moves on to the District level. However, the winner and runners up were not able to attend the contest held in Greenville Friday night. That left me to represent our Area!

I couldn’t believe I had the opportunity to redeem myself from the speech where I didn’t do so well. My fellow Toastmasters helped me practice techniques to do well and I watched several videos on YouTube to prepare for the big event.

I was one of seven competing at the divisional level and I’m really excited to have won third place! It all happened so quickly that I barely remember the question. I believe we had to describe a time where our perspective changed about a situation. I talked about my perspective of living with a disability and overcoming the obstacles. I encouraged the audience to not let any adversities they encounter hinder them from achieving their dreams.

Table Topics Winners: 1st place -Tyler Gear (right); 2nd place - William Ratliff (left); 3rd place - Alex Jackson (center)

Table Topics Winners: 1st place -Tyler Gear (right); 2nd place – William Ratliff (left); 3rd place – Alex Jackson (center)

My dad joined me on the trip to Greenville and I’m glad he was in the audience to support me. He reminded me to remain calm and do the best I could.

Alex and his dad.

Alex and his dad.

Even though I have spoken to many groups over the years, Toastmasters has given me even more confidence to speak and share my story!

To learn more about Toastmasters, visit


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Action-packed fun at Cooper River Bridge Run and Volvo Car Open Tennis Tournament

What an action-packed start to April for locals and tourists in the Charleston area! The 40th Cooper River Bridge Run was held Saturday, April 1 and the Volvo Car Tennis Tournament also began that weekend on Daniel Island.

The race had about 40,000 runners, walkers and wheelchair rollers. For the past twelve years, competitive wheelchair racers from around the country have competed in the Bridge Run. These athletes push themselves across the 10K route in sleek, light-weight sports racing chairs.

James Senbeta (right) and Krige Schabort nearing the finish line at the Cooper River Bridge Run. (Photo: Brad Nettles/Post and Courier)

James Senbeta (right) and Krige Schabort nearing the finish line at the Cooper River Bridge Run. (Photo: Brad Nettles/Post and Courier)

James Senbeta , of Savoy, Illinois, came in first place for the second year in a row with a time of 25:16 just ahead of Rome, Georgia resident Krige Schabort with a time of 25:17.


For the first time in several years, there was a particpant in the junior division. Fifteen-year-old Donovan McBride, of Walterloo, Illinois, finished the race with a time of 36:03. Since the Bridge Run, Donovan also competed in the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon.

Donovan McBride with Wheelchair Division Director Kim Aquino.

Donovan McBride with Wheelchair Division Director Kim Aquino.

Volvo Car Open

The Volvo Car Open is the largest women’s only tennis tournament in North America. Some notable players this year were Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniak. However, these ladies were outplayed by 19-year-old Daria Kasatkina who won the tournament.

A wheelchair tennis exhibition game also took place where players from around the state demonstrated the game for the crowd. I didn’t get to attend the match since it was rescheduled due to bad weather, but my friend, Sarah Casteel, was one of the athletes. Sarah teaches wheelchair tennis to a group of people in wheelchairs in Charleston and Greenville.

Volvo Car Open

Volvo Car Open

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Difficulties with traveling with a 200+ pound power chair

The website AbleThrive curates and delivers solutions for life with a disability. Each week, they connect people through social media to share how people participate in daily activities. This week’s theme is #ThisIsHowI travel.

People can post photos and short videos of themselves traveling by any mode of transportation. As many of you know, my mode of transportation is my Toyota Sienna rampvan that I drive with a joystick system.

My most recent trip was this past weekend as a I traveled by charter bus to Ghent, West Virginia.

Traveling by bus with a wheelchair

I joined the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and youth group of St. Matthew Baptist Church as we traveled to Winterplace Ski Resort. It’s a trip we take almost every year.


The wheelchair lift is at the back of the bus allowing a person to stay in their chair while traveling.

A few bus companies have busses equipped with wheelchair lifts allowing people with disabilities to stay in their wheelchairs while on the trip. The chair is tied down the same way as in personal vehicles.

The bus we used had a wheelchair lift; however the company knew the lift’s circuit board wasn’t working. A couple mechanics came to diagnose the problem, but the lift couldn’t be repaired. It was quite an exhausting process to crank the lift to get me and my 200+ pound chair on the bus.

Unfortunately, once we arrived in West Virginia and stopped for dinner, the hand crank broke as I was getting back on the bus. At least the lift could be lowered so that I wasn’t stranded on the platform. Since the electronic system was already broken, the hand crank is the only mechanism to stow the ramp inside the bus.

While a group of people worked on the lift, another set of folks, including myself, called around for a wheelchair accessible taxi or vehicle to get me to the hotel. We were eventually able to get the Princeton, WV Rescue Squad to come to my rescue! I was surprised they have a wheelchair-accessible rampvan! The officer was able to take me and my mom to the hotel.

In the meantime, a mechanic who happened to be at the restaurant when the lift was out of commission, was able to get the broken piece fixed. The lift was then able to be stowed and the rest of the group finally made it to the hotel.

I’m not a superstitious person, but that was definitely an eventful Friday, the 13th!!

To ensure the lift didn’t break down again, I had a few guys carry me on the bus and we stored my wheelchair in the cargo section as we went to and from the ski resort. Once we arrived, everything went smoothly. Everyone enjoyed shredding on the slopes and had a good time! I didn’t try adaptive skiing this time, but may give it a try the next time.

On our trip back Sunday, we tested the hand crank and I was able to stay in my wheelchair all the way back home.


Winterplace Ski Resort – Ghent, West Virginia

Tips for accessible travel

I’ve traveled by bus, plane and train over the years. I have to always be prepared for anything to go wrong, whether it’s my wheelchair or mode of transportation.

It’s important to make sure the bus is in working order beforehand. Make sure you let the bus company know the type of power chair. In my case, the chair cannot be folded and I need it to sit comfortably.

Be sure to locate mobility van rental companies. They may be closed after hours and on weekends, but some places have an after-hours phone line where you can talk to someone.

Check to see if there are wheelchair taxis or a Paratransit system nearby. If all else fails, call the local fire squad to see what they have available. It worked in my case!

I want to hear from you. How have you turned a travel situation around for the better? Also, post your videos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #ThisIsHowI travel.


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