Park City woman helps wheelchair cause |

Park City woman helps wheelchair cause

Take two mountain bike wheels with knobby tires, a couple of castor wheels and a plastic lawn chair and bolt them all together. For about a $44 investment, you now have a wheelchair which can forever change the life of a disabled person.

Don Schoendorfer, while traveling in Morocco, was haunted by the memory of a crippled woman crawling on the dirt. With a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from M.I.T., he used his training to build a simple, durable, inexpensive wheelchair, with easily replaceable parts. He began the non-profit Free Wheelchair Mission in 2001.

Free Wheelchair Mission has provided 131,000 free wheelchairs to the disabled in over 53 countries. They will be in Park City holding two fundraisers, Friday Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec 2,

Park City resident Erin Egan, passionately active in the cause, is letting locals know about the event.

Last year Egan saw the movie "Emmanuel’s Gift," a documentary about a man of little means who had a deformed leg, but who rode a bike across Ghana, his home in West Africa to raise awareness for the disabled. Not only did he eventually change the laws for the disabled, but more importantly, he changed attitudes toward the disabled. Free Wheelchair Mission was mentioned in mentioned in the film, and Egan knew she wanted to help.

Egan had a hard time containing her excitement as she spoke of changing a disabled person’s life with a $44 donation. She is determined to raise $25,000 by spring, enough to fill a shipping container with wheelchairs and deliver them to a developing country to be distributed to those in need.

She is also determined to get Park City students involved. "I want to see our Park City kids become a future generation of philanthropists. She sees almost as much benefit coming to students helping those in need, as to the recipients of their generosity. "It’s small but it’s huge," she said. Already students from the Park City Academy are getting involved, as are students from Park City High School girls’ soccer team.

Egan’s son, Ricky, 16, who is somewhat of a celebrity in Park City for his paralympic ski-racing skills, has faced the challenges of living with Spina Bifida.

"My son can thankfully walk with crutches," Egan said. But she knows there are an estimated 100 million people in developing countries that lack the most basic means of propulsion.

Egan spoke of how fortunate Americans with disabilities are compared with those in developing countries.

"We get the good parking places at markets and get to cut in line at Disneyland," she said. But in Third World Countries, the disabled may receive no help, and may even be shunned by others.

Meeche White, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of the National Ability Center, "has made a difference in my life," Egan said. "She’s changed my perceptions of what is possible. Ricky has been given so much help by the National Ability Center, Egan said, that now he sees it as his responsibility to give back to others in need of help.

Egan is going to attempt a half-marathon to raise more money for Free Wheelchair Mission. "We have amazing kids in Park City, Egan said. "They have amazing parents. Wouldn’t it be great to show our kids there is so much good that can be done in the World?"

"I’ve been given so much," Egan said. "Now it’s my turn to give."

For more information on Free Wheelchair Mission, visit

The Free Wheelchair Mission fundraiser will be held Friday, Dec. 1, 5:30-7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 2, 9-10:30 a.m. at the Deer Valley Clubhouse.

Directions: From the roundabout on Deer Valley Drive, drive north up Marsac Ave. Turn left up Guardsman Connection, heading toward Royal Street. Turn left on Royal St. West. The Lookout at Deer Valley Clubhouse is located on the first street on the left. Signs will be posted. For more information, contact Erin at 962-0120 or Janell at 655-5013.

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