Snowmass Resident Aims to Help Veterans With Wheelchair Treads

Apr 16, 2014

A wheel chair using Freedom Trax.
A wheel chair using Freedom Trax.
Credit Larry Spatz

A part time Snowmass Village resident is working to revolutionize wheelchairs for veterans. The idea is to make it easier for vets to get around places that don’t have smooth pavement, to improve quality of life and expand their access to the outdoors. 

  Larry Spatz has been living in the Roaring Fork Valley part time for two decades. 

And in recent years, he’s wanted to help make a difference for military veterans returning from war. He hadn’t been looking at wheelchairs, per se, but got the idea after talking with someone he knows well.

“The fact that I had been a friend who has been long term in a wheelchair, and is able to get out, he skis, he does everything, so my feeling was if he was interested in this, then it was important.”

So, Spatz brainstormed with a Chicago engineering company about how to make a chair that would be more mobile than what most veterans currently use. The result is a prototype Spatz has been sharing with vets to try out. It’s called Freedom Trax, which looks like:

“A version of a small tank track that a veteran can roll his wheelchair onto the trax, click it in place, and is able to go into sand, gravel, and is able to go in snow, sand, gravel, up curbs, all types of things that a normal wheelchair wouldn’t be able to do.”

Spatz recently spent time with disabled vets in the Valley to get their feedback. The larger idea is to sell the trax  for about fifteen hundred dollars-- and maybe convince Veterans Affairs to distribute them as well. In the long run, Spatz aims to direct some of the proceeds to Huts for Vets. That’s a basalt group, that provides wilderness and therapeutic experiences for former service members. Adam McCabe is a board member, and says making it easier for vets to get around could help participants in the group’s trips at Margie’s Hut.

“Our last amputee tried to hike. He needed to turn around, we were able to as a team, navigate some challenges. I tell you what this would have been a really helpful thing to have on that trip.”

Larry Spatz says so far, the feedback on the prototype has been positive.

"Up til now, most of them are in the same wheel chair that an 80 year old might be in. By being in the freedom rax, it’s special and it sems them apart, and they felt it was cool. And the trax that we used, being similar to the tank, really related to the military.”

Spatz hopes to have a model available on the market in about three months.