BraunAbility Toyota Sienna Wheelchair Van Reignites Spark of Freedom in a Harley-Loving Indiana Couple
Tracie and Darrell Ridgeway were the picture of freedom and independence. That couple speeding by on their Harley Davidson—wind in their hair, hugging the curves, embracing the adventures of the road?—That was them.
But 2020 would bring immense change. Tracie began to experience a gradual loss of muscle strength, resulting in severely diminished mobility. She reached out for help from The ALS Association, and before long, the motorcycle was stuck in the garage.
The Ridgeways worked with Superior Van and Mobility in Fishers, IN to customize a brand-new BraunAbility Toyota Rampvan® to their specific needs. The Toyota Sienna Hybrid, made accessible by BraunAbility, features a side-entry foldout ramp and custom lower body striping, specially branded to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary.
Below, Tracie shares their story, her new mobility journey, and the impact of that new van in her own words:
How has life changed since your ALS diagnosis?
We are blessed to have the love and support of many but, boy, I could go on forever here.
Things that were taken for granted are now so difficult for me, like dressing myself. I can’t even lift a shirt over my head due to immense difficulties with my balance. I have to sit down when showering and washing my hair because it’s hard to hold my arms up for very long. I struggle to do simple household chores such as carrying a load of laundry, cleaning my tubs or sweeping floors. The list of these types of little things are really endless.
I was a nurse for 25 years and LOVED my job so much. We have gone from a two-income family to one, which was a major financial adjustment.
I suffer from Pseudobulbar affect, and it's embarrassing for me, which causes me to sometimes laugh so hard that I'll pee my pants so...there's that.
I have lost friends and my work family, so I am socially isolated. People distance themselves from us, simply not knowing how to deal with it all.
We used to take off on the motorcycle for day trips or vacations. We LOVED LOVED LOVED our time together exploring new places, and I miss that so darn much.
What have you experienced on your journey with mobility?
Now we cannot just jump in a car or on the motorcycle and go...anywhere. A trip means planning exactly where we are going and researching accessibility options in advance. Do our destinations and stops along the way have handicap parking up close? Will they have an entrance with automatic doors? Restroom stalls with a higher toilet or grab bars? Walkways with ramps? Do they have ample room through aisles and walkways to accommodate a wheelchair? Suddenly the spontaneity we loved so much seems impossible.
My husband feels guilt not being here with me, even 45 mins away at work. He rarely rides his motorcycle these days because it creates guilt over leaving me at home and knowing how I loved to ride.
What will you be able to do now that you have a mobility van?
We have the freedom to explore and travel and take my power wheelchair with us. Before, we'd go to festivals and my legs would tire out, and I'd have to sit down somewhere. Darrell would have to go get me food and bring it to me. He'd have to go explore the event without me because either it wasn't accessible or I'd tire out. There is no more guilt about me sitting in the car or on a bench waiting.
The van also means independence to get out and go on my own without a babysitter. I can get to my own medical appointments and go to a store or for a drive.
What does this mean to your family?
I am home most days on my own and bored out of my mind. This van allows Darrel and I to travel, go places together and make lasting memories. We can take our children, grandchildren, and parents with us on outings and reconnect.
Most importantly though, it will allow us to do things and enjoy each other while we still can and while I'm still mobile.
Since 2020, Tracie and Darrell have given back to the ALS Community, volunteering in outreach and fundraising efforts. The ALS Association is the largest philanthropic funder of ALS research in the world. The Association funds global research collaborations, assists people with ALS and their families through its nationwide network of care and certified clinical care centers, and advocates for better public policies for people with ALS. The ALS Association is working to make ALS a livable disease while urgently searching for new treatments and a cure. For more information, visit als.org.