We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.- John F. Kennedy
As you may know, July 20th is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. As our nation remembers and celebrates this important day in history, I thought it would be appropriate to make a little announcement to the readers of AbilityVoice: early next year, Ralph Braun will publish a book about his life and his company, entitled “Rise Above.” It’s an exciting project to be sure, and everyone at BraunAbility is looking forward to its release!
There’s an interesting parallel to be drawn between Kennedy’s Moon shot and Ralph Braun’s invention of the first motorized scooter. Throughout the 1960s our nation was engaged in a race to the moon, spurred on by Kennedy’s proclamation and the cold war with the Soviet Union. When Neil Armstrong took his “one small step” in July of 1969, it was truly an incredible achievement that captured the imagination of our nation and the world.
But as everyone was busy dreaming about going to the Moon, Ralph Braun was just trying to get back and forth the few blocks to work in the small town of Winamac, Indiana. He had been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy as a child, and was faced with a short life in the “iron monster” wheelchair of the day. Refusing to accept this fate, he was driven to build the world’s first electric scooter, which he dubbed the “Tri-Wheeler.”
Word spread as others asked for a scooter for themselves, and the foundation of a successful company was laid. Throughout the decade, Ralph perfected his invention that – along with the wheelchair lifts and wheelchair vans that would come later – would eventually provide mobility for thousands of people with disabilities.
I’ve had the pleasure of working on the insightful book that is “Rise Above” with Ralph and have found the story of his life and our company to be incredibly rich, and it really makes for a fascinating read! In the coming months I’ll be sharing some passages with you on AbilityVoice just to give you a small taste of what’s to come.
Chapter Five is entitled “Moon Shots,” and on this particular day in history, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate excerpt to share with you:
In 1961, one year before I graduated from high school, President John F. Kennedy said the United States would land a man on the Moon.
Speaking before a Joint Session of Congress, he said, First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him back safely to earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.
When Kennedy said this only one Russian, Yuri Gagarin, had ever gone into orbit, and just one American, Alan Shepard, had flown in space for 15 minutes, 28 seconds, only one month earlier. To people of all ages, this was a time of excitement and possibility. If even the sky itself was not the limit, what did the future hold for us? Put simply, you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that this was an ambitious goal.
Did Kennedy’s Moon shot inspire me to great things? Did it propel me to launch my company? It did other members of my generation, so the convenient or politically correct answer would be yes. It would be easy for me to say that the combination of scientific discovery and human potential filled me with a romantic notion that anything is possible if I put my mind to it. While that’s partly true, the authentic answer is really no, Kennedy’s Moon shot did not inspire me in that way. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t proud of my country; I was, and I am. After all, in those days we were in a race with the Soviet Union and I was happy to have a leg up on them.
But my thoughts were more down to earth.
When Kennedy gave his speech in 1961, most people my age were concerned with what they were going to be when they grew up. My concern was that I wanted to grow up, period. Their concern was what they were going to do, whether they were going to be farmers like their dads or drive fire trucks. I never thought about those things. I thought about being alive. That was my total focus. Consequently, I never really considered how bad it was, or how bad it could get someday, or that I may not survive. I just wanted to live every day as much as I possibly could.
Staying alive was my Moon shot.
-“Rise Above” by Ralph Braun
In much the same way as 1969’s Moon shot, Ralph Braun’s “Rise Above” will be a celebration of the power of human potential. Please stay tuned to AbilityVoice in the coming months, and let us know what you think by commenting below!