Adventures with Greg Durso: LA Abilities Expo
As I start delving deeper into the adaptive sports world and wheelchair community, I keep kicking myself (pun intended) and having thoughts on why I didn’t get involved more sooner. After my injury 11 years ago I was younger, more naive and ignorant in my thoughts towards being “disabled” and the community that came along with it. I would always say “I am ok with being in a wheelchair but you’re not going to see me rolling out of a minivan with five other chair users”. I wanted to forge my own path, go back to the banking world and my friends, the status quo I was used to living. I thought I was being different and strong by separating myself from my SCI and that community by going back into the world with a suit and tie on every day. Well, I can tell you now I am ashamed for having those thoughts that I needed to separate myself from that community. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy I went back to work right away doing my thing but I put too much pressure on myself trying to be “normal”.
It’s the organizations that are out there like the Kelly Brush Foundation that are making a difference and making these communities stronger. That KBF grant I received 10 years ago didn’t just make me active again, didn’t just change my life, it also changed my perception on life and the community I am now so PROUD to be a part of! As I have learned now, the wheelchair and adaptive sports community is incredible, filled with so many amazing people, organizations, and tremendous support. It’s a community I respect and am so passionate about, one that my life now revolves around and a place where I want to become a leader. If you have ever had those same thoughts I did after my injury, that’s totally fine and you need to do you but just know, don’t be afraid to dip your feet into (pun intended again) this wonderful wheelchair world. I would now gladly roll up with a dozen different minivans and five dozen chair users anytime anywhere.
How many of you know there are events out there called Ability Expos? Well they exist and here is their mission: “Abilities Expo is about bringing necessary products and services together under one roof for the community, their families, caregivers, seniors, and healthcare professionals. It’s about introducing opportunities that can enrich your life …especially ones that you never knew were out there.” They are truly a great resource for anyone that is newly injured or for those just seeing what is out there. They are all over the US: New York, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, Miami and Los Angeles. The NY expo is where I saw my first handcycle, which I purchased there, and allowed me to set my first goal towards riding at the Kelly Brush Ride way back in 2009, which ultimately changed the course of my life to where I am now. So, I would highly recommend going to one.
I had the opportunity to attend the LA Abilities Expo Feb 21-23 and wow it was something to see and I could tell it is the biggest of them all. There were over 9,000 attendees and over 200 booths representing many organizations, manufacturers, vendors, you name it, all in support of the disability community. You could roll in there and then roll out with a souped-up minivan, mini-horse, wheelchair, adaptive sports equipment and be signed up for a vacation, adaptive sports program or concert. They have everything and anything to try, rock climbing, new wheelchairs, new mobility devices and gadgets and lifts. Plus, so many organizations to talk to and get you involved in or fight for your rights.
I arrived late afternoon on Friday and upon landing I saw the Hollywood sign from a distance and thought to myself, wow, wouldn’t it be cool to hike there and get a picture like I see so many others do. But as a wheelchair user a lot of times it’s more a bummer because you think you can’t do something more than you can. But this time, I knew I was in the right place at the right time with the right people and from the tarmac I texted the Grit Freedom Chair crew who were attending the expo and said “Early morning Grit Chair hike to the Hollywood sign?” Let’s just say I got a resounding yes and we made it happen, so very cool. My trip was off to a great start. I got a full two and half days to network and let the greater Los Angeles area know the KBF is an organization worth knowing. I got to visit some of our vendors, friends, grant recipients and start new relationships with others. I had the honor of being escorted around by one of our past grant recipients, Damon Whittaker, who could and might just be the mayor of all things adaptive in the Los Angles area. I would love to give a shout out to some of our friends and new friends who were there making a huge difference in this amazing community: Grit Freedom Chair, Triumph Foundation, Angel City Sports, Casa Colina, Total Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, United States Adaptive Recreation Center, Invacare/Top End, Understanding Disability (Candance Cable), Box Wheelchairs, How I Roll Sports, Totally Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, RGK Wheelchairs, The Rollettes, Spinergy Wheels, Permobil, Adaptdefy (Mike Brown all the way from NZ, check out his Lapstacker) and Vesco.
That’s not all folks, I was able to attend a Lakers game, and visit Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier which were all very accessible in my opinion. Further, renting a car at LAX and heading south was also a breeze. I visited the Challenge Athletes Foundation (CAF) headquarters and was able to talk shop and have a meeting of the minds. It’s great to meet other organizations such as CAF who share a similar space with KBF and learn from each other. Ryan Baker of Spinergy Wheels also gave me the opportunity to swing by their office, check out the warehouse and see where most of every wheelchair users’ wheels come from.
To say the least this was a very important trip and extremely enlightening for both me and the KBF. Being a part of this adaptive sports and wheelchair community means everything to me now. I am so happy to be a player in it and have the opportunity to help others and grow this community.