Before he sustained a C5-6 spinal cord injury, Randy Duchesneau was at home on the dance floor. Breakdancing didn’t have the same appeal after SCI, but Randy found a new hobby miles away from the dance hall.
Seated behind the wheels of his handcycle in the middle of a vacant road in Death Valley, Randy Duchesneau took a minute to soak up the beauty around him. “I could look into the distance and not see a single other person,” he says. “And that’s something that we quadriplegics don’t get that often, with attendants or somebody near us all the time.”
Hiking and exploring nature were not near the top of Duchesneau’s list of hobbies before he was paralyzed in 2006, but SCI has a way of changing things.
In the last few years Duchesneau has explored numerous national parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Glacier, Joshua Tree, the Canadian Rockies and much more. “I’ve grown to love the scenery, the landscapes and the environment,” he says. “Also, the solitude.”
Prior to his injury, Duchesneau was a breakdancer at Cornell University. He tried to get back into it when he returned to school after his injury, but found that his interest had waned. “Even though I can move my arm around and dance a little bit now, I was nowhere near as good as I was before,” he says. “I thought finding new hobbies would be easier.”
It just so happened that one of his breakdancing friends had also moved on to a new hobby, hiking. Duchesneau tagged along and liked it. For Duchesneau, hiking often involves more than just wheeling through a new locale. While he normally uses a Permobil C500, he travels in a manual chair with e-Fix power-assist wheels to allow him more flexibility for the inevitable obstacles.
“I always try to do some trails that aren’t quite accessible just so I can feel like I’m doing something more outdoorsy,” he says. “It’s really nice to push the level of what’s accessible and see if I can go someplace that is more challenging to get to.”
His trip to Joshua Tree with some of his breakdancing friends provides a perfect example. “I had four people carry my chair and push and lift me up over all these different rocks, trying to take me as far up the trail as they possibly could,” he says. “We got 90 percent up the trail, almost to the summit, before we finally reached an impasse where it was so narrow we couldn’t fit the wheelchair through and the rocks were about 5 or 6 feet high, so there was no way someone could lift me up over them. That’s as far as I got, but it was a very exciting hike.”
When not bouldering in his chair, Duchesneau finds time to explore via handcycle. Just like he chose the e-Fix wheels to give him more flexibility, Duchesneau settled on a Dragonfly as his handcycle of choice because of its ability to attach to his manual chair.
“I like it mostly because I can transport it and use it where I need to,” he says. “They have a saying: The best camera is the one you have with you. The same thing applies with the handcycle.”
Duchesneau has considered writing down all the access info he has learned to share with others. Asked for his top recommendation for accessible outdoors exploration, he chose Rocky Mountain Adaptive, a Canadian charity that promotes accessible opportunities to explore the Canadian Rockies. “They don’t have the ADA in Canada obviously, but thanks to Rocky Mountain Adaptive I probably got to do more in a week while visiting there than I do over the course of a year visiting parks here in the States.”
Alter Ego Family Man
Spinal cord injury hasn’t stopped Duchesneau from attaining the family life he wanted. He lives happily with his partner and they had their first child, daughter Maia, two years ago.
“Being a parent and a quad has been challenging. I think the most challenging parts were when she was an infant and there wasn’t really much I could do to help. She seemed so helpless. She was unable to turn herself and I worried about her suffocating. It was very nerve wracking watching how helpless she was. I wanted to be able to help a lot more than I could, and I was extremely nervous because I knew that if I needed to help, I couldn’t really do anything. I always had to make sure other people were around. I didn’t feel as useful as I would like to have been. But it was just a phase and since she turned about 18 months old, it has been really exciting and rewarding. She can walk around and climb up onto my wheelchair. I can talk to her and she understands what’s going on. It’s a great joy to be around her now and do things together.”
Computer Solution: I use two Kensington trackball mouses, so I can left click with my left arm and right click with my right. It keeps my shoulders in a better position and pain-free.
A Message for Elon: I’m hoping that the people building self-driving cars will keep accessibility in mind so that it can open the world for people with disabilities who can’t drive.
Why I Joined United Spinal: I helped found the Philadelphia chapter because it seemed like a good opportunity to meet more people with SCI and share information. Meeting other quads and finding out how they did things was a very valuable part of my progress, so I figured having a chapter in the Philadelphia area would help others.