Disabled Explorers


Joel Johnson has a terrific feature up over at Gizmodo about Lance Blair, and his diesel-powered wheelchair-accessible 4×4 adventure truck known as "Wheelchair Accessible Van for Expeditions," or "WAVE." Lance had a motorcycle accident in 1988. He lost a leg, and sustained great damage to his hip and pelvis. He didn't think he'd walk again, and for a while, folks around him weren't sure if he'd live, period. Now he runs an organization called Disabled Explorers. Snip:

Every soldier is eventually discharged. Every soldier, especially those who have seen combat, has to figure out how to reintegrate with society. Disabled soldiers get to do all that, plus figure out what they physically can and can't do.

So Lance rolls up in the WAVE, tosses the soldier in the back, and takes him out to the desert for a few days of overland travel.

Since the wars began, dozens of soldiers have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan missing limbs. The US military's disposition towards disabled soldiers has improved considerably since the 20th century, with programs like "Operation Proper Exit" in place to help soldiers work through not just the physical but emotional trauma by revisiting the place where they lost their limb. To see that their loss contributed to the competition of their mission helps some soldiers contextualize their sacrifice.

Lance's prosthesis maker lives in Phoenix. He works with marines at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, the ones who have gotten back from a dusty war and are being fitted with their first custom carbon-fiber arm or leg. Together they realized that there was an opportunity to get these guys out of their physical therapy and into an adventure–one that would remind them they were still healthy young men who could do things that even those with all their limbs might not have the gumption to manage. (Lance also works with non-military disabled folk.)

Disabled Explorers In the World's Most Badass Short Bus (Gizmodo)