Getting wounded vets back on track

MARSHALL – The Action Trackchair company has been building its signature product in Marshall since 2009, offering vastly increased mobility for physically challenged but physically active people. Now veterans support groups are putting America’s wounded warriors in what some affectionately call the “tank chair.”

Action Trackchair founder Tim Swenson conceived of the idea of the Trackchair after his son Jeff became wheelchair-bound in a car crash in 1998. Swenson described the original idea as part-snowmobile, part-wheelchair.

“Our veterans were generally outdoors people to begin with, so we’ve been selling them to them from the first,” Swenson said. “With battlefield medicine these days, people are getting blown up and surviving. We’ve sold chairs to quadruple amputees.”

Swenson sold his interest in Action Sports to concentrate exclusively on Trackchair production after the product proved an international success. In 2012, the firm introduced a feature that allows the user to stand up in the chair, a boon to hunters and anglers.

But the Action Trackchair costs about $12,000 for a basic model, and the Veterans Administration has not yet approved it as a medical device.

Then Swenson’s brother-in-law Doug Carlson, who owns a Trackchair dealership in Austin, Texas, met Steve “Luker” Danyluk and Sgt. John Peck, a quadruple amputee.

Last September, Peck was attending “Lt. Dan Week,” a retreat for wounded warriors and their caregivers, named after a character in the movie “Forrest Gump.” Lt. Dan was played by actor Gary Sinese, who is active in raising money for wounded veterans support through the Lt. Dan Band and the Gary Sinese Foundation.

“The Forgotten Sons Motorcycle Club had just raised and presented $12,000 to Danyluk,” Carlson said. “John was talking to Steve and John said, ‘What I’d really like is an Action Trackchair.’ Steve said, ‘How much does it cost? I’ll buy you one.’ They called us and asked how to get one, and that was the beginning of the story.”

Peck received his Trackchair at the Walter Reed Hospital 2012 Christmas party, along with Sgt. Adam Keyes.

The Independence Fund, a support organization for severely wounded veterans, ordered three Trackchairs to present to vets on Super Bowl Sunday. Jennifer Griffen, a correspondent for FOX news, got wind of the story and convinced FOX news commentator Bill O’Reilly to get on board.

“On May 1, Bill O’Reilly actually bought a chair and gave it away to a disabled veteran,” Swenson said. “He got emotionally attached.”

Since then, the story has been picking up steam and on Tuesday, CNN News came to Marshall to cover the story.

The Action Trackchair enables severely wounded vets to get around in places inaccessible to ordinary wheelchairs: hunting, fishing, or just a trip to the beach.

“There are five living quadruple amputees from the War on Terror,” Carlson said. “There’s 39 triple amputees and hundreds of double, single and paralyzed.”

Cpl. Michael Boucher, United States Marine Corps from Bogart, Ga., lost both legs in Afghanistan and received his “tank chair” through the Semper Fi Fund, an organization that provides support for Marines, sailors or other military personnel assigned to Marine Forces, injured in combat or training since 9-11.

“I was in Colorado mono-skiing when I saw one,” Boucher said. “I said, ‘Let me take it for a test drive.’ After that, I started figuring out how to get one. It’s provided mobility I wouldn’t have in a regular wheelchair. Even with my prostheses it’s difficult getting around in the woods. Now I can get around in the Trackchair and get out.”