Rise Above: Epilogue

Rise Above: Epilogue

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. - Edward Everett Hale

I’m going to ask you to take one more trip with me.

Imagine it’s 1946 and you’re my parents, Joseph and Olive Braun. A doctor at Riley Hospital in Indianapolis has just told you that your six-year-old son has muscular dystrophy. He says your boy won’t make it through his teen years. You stare in horror. Choke back tears. Get light-headed and shuffle your feet.

The doctor looks at you with pity. He suggests you leave your son behind so he can be examined further, not just for a few days but for weeks. He says sure, your son will be able to walk for a few years, but gradually he’ll get weaker, until one day, he won’t be able to walk at all. He won’t be able to feed himself, go to the bathroom alone, or bathe in solitude. He’ll lie in bed or, at best, sit in a chair, until his suffering is over.

He says you have a choice. You can walk out the door with your son. You can take him back to Winamac and put a tremendous strain on yourselves, on the daughter you already have, and, most of all, on the boy himself.

Or, he says, you can walk out the door alone. You can let him live in peace, in a place where he can be cared for properly—and studied. In this very hospital, thanks to your boy, scientific discoveries might be made that will save the lives of others or at least make their lives more manageable.

Of course, by now you know the decision my parents made. For them, there really was no agonizing doorway dilemma. They were going to leave, and they were going to take me with them. Once in the car, I’d take my familiar place in the back seat and would make faces at my sister, just like I did on the way down there.

I must tell you that the possibility for the other choice was there. If it weren’t for Joseph and Olive Braun, another choice may very well have been made.

Now I ask you to imagine that you’re me, today, at the age of 69. As a CEO of a global company, a father of five supportive children, a grandfather of eight, a husband to a wonderful wife, and the son of Joseph Braun, who passed away on February 7, 1986, and the ever-stalwart 98-year-old Olive Braun of Winamac, Indiana, I am still climbing the ladder of life.

This year, I was faced with my own doorway decision. I am painfully aware that some people in the world do not have full use of their arms or legs; they have been in a car accident, have become paralyzed on the job, or have been injured in combat while serving our country. People have multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, or spinal muscular atrophy, like I do. These are people who may never complain but who are nonetheless quietly desperate because they never leave their homes. People of all shapes and sizes, through no fault of their own, cannot do the things they would like to do.

What does that have to do with me, you ask? I know the world is full of people who could use wheelchair vans but who can not afford them. I know this because I am inundated with requests from people who are dealing with the same mobility challenges I am but do not have the financial means to overcome those challenges.

Faced with that knowledge of need, how could I go out the door alone and leave these good people behind? To use my father’s example, after he reached back with his hand to help me up the ladder of life, how could I not help others? Granted, I can’t help everyone, but I’ve always been struck by the words of the minister Edward Everett Hale, who said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

How could I sit by idly while others called out in obvious need? I’d already overcome the challenge of mobility by inventing the motorized scooter and wheelchair lift. I’d already found my way past the obstacles erected by society’s schools, restaurants, and banks. I’d already been helped by people like my mom and dad, my children, Ralph Rocky, Paul Gillette, Beverly Chapman, Becky Kroft, my wife Melody, and countless other angels.

If I’d already risen above the challenge of mobility and made a living helping those who could afford my products do the same, how could I not help others who were not so fortunate?

Faced with these choices, my decision was easy: I would do whatever I could to help those in need. That was the driving force behind the creation of the Ralph Braun Foundation this year, whose mission will be to help provide accessible transportation to those without the financial resources to purchase BraunAbility products.1

Once again, I know the need is great.

For instance, Medicaid and Medicare typically cover the purchase price of power wheelchairs. However, they draw the line there and do not offer any assistance for vehicle transportation. Ironically, this means that Medicaid and Medicare offer people mobility by funding power wheelchairs, but they don’t allow them to go anywhere with them.

In reality, while mobility is essential to a person’s social and mental health, the wheelchair itself is only the first piece of the puzzle. A power chair offers access only to the home and maybe the surrounding blocks in the neighborhood. A BraunAbility wheelchair van completes the mobility puzzle and picks up where others leave off.

Moreover, while I’ve always gotten letters from people who would love to have wheelchair vans, the number increased exponentially when we ran a contest last year called “The Ultimate FanVan Giveaway,” in which Toyota, Great Clips, and Braun Racing teamed up with BraunAbility to give away a one-of-a-kind Toyota Sienna wheelchair van styled like a race car.

We’ve already established that I love racing, love cars, and love banging metal together, so in my mind, the Ultimate FanVan is a mobile piece of art. It’s an amazingly accurate replica of Braun Racing’s #38 car, which races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. From its red and white suede seats to the custom vinyl graphics, this wheelchair van is one tricked-out ride.

To enter the contest, entrants wrote an essay answering the question “How will the Ultimate Fan Van make a difference in my life?” To give you an idea of the need and of the quality of the entries, take a look at the following:

“Can someone please help me? I am at my wits’ end. I have a 16-year-old son who has spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Day by day as he grows, my husband and I are less able to take him out into the community because we do not have a van. Often he spends Friday afternoon until Monday in the house until he can be picked up by his school bus and go back out ‘into the world.’ I have tried to get financed for a van to no avail and was just forced to take a 10 percent pay cut in this unstable economy. My son is a bright, creative, and expressive child, but I can already see that I have stifled his independence and abilities by not being able to provide him the necessary means of transportation.”

This is only one example, with thousands more just like it. We heard from many, many individuals who have the need for reliable mobility but not the means to obtain it. I hope BraunAbility and the Ralph Braun Foundation, working together, will help meet this need far into the future.

I have a very clear vision of this future, where people faced with unimaginable obstacles pull together to overcome them. That includes you, the reader of this book, who, no matter what you’re dealing with, holds the future in your very own hands.

After all, if I can rise above, so can you.


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