Marine Sgt. Ben Tomlinson said he was impressed as he tested out his new Action Trackchair in the yard of his Jacksonville home. The battery-operated chair is equipped with treads similar to a tank, allowing Tomlinson to go just about anywhere.
The $15,000 chair was donated to Tomlinson by the Semper Fi Fund, an organization that provides support for critically ill and injured members of the armed forces. Tomlinson was paralyzed from the chest down in May 2011 while serving in Afghanistan.
His mother, Debbie Tomlinson, said she couldn’t thank groups such as Semper Fi enough for what they’ve done for her son. Semper Fi gave Tomlinson an iPad with a stylus while he was still recovering in the hospital, so he could stay connected with minimal use of his hands. The group also gave him a wheelchair that allows him to play rugby, made his bathroom wheelchair accessible and donated $50,000 towards the building of his “smart home.”
“They’ve been so good to Ben,” Debbie Tomlinson said.
Debbie Tomlinson watched as her son learned how to use the new wheelchair and said she hoped her family could take a trip to the beach after Philip Shadle, an Action Trackchair dealer, said the chair works great in the sand.
Shadle said the chair is waterproof and can be used not only in sand, but mud and snow.
“The track chair is just like you. If you want to go out in the rain, hunting, fishing, playing golf and getting wet, you’re fine ... If it gets wet just bring it in and dry it off,” Shadle told the Tomlinsons.
Shadle said Action Trackchair, the Minnesota-based company, was created in 2009 when the owner’s son was paralyzed in an accident and wanted to continue his hobbies using all-terrain vehicles and ice fishing.
The wheelchair, which Tomlinson drives with a joystick, is equipped with a headlight, a rifle rest and room to add attachments, such as a fishing pole holder.
Steve Williams, a friend of the Tomlinsons, said he first saw an Action Trackchair while watching Fox News and said to himself “Ben needs one of these.”
Williams said he started a fundraiser and within one day raised $3,000 for the chair. He called Shadle to get the process of building Tomlinson’s chair started and was told that Semper Fi would pay for the entire cost of the wheelchair.
“I was just floored,” Williams said.
Williams said he felt he needed to do something to give back to Tomlinson to thank him for his service.
“He’s given his whole lifestyle for us and this is the least I could do,” Williams said.
Tomlinson said he was thankful and “spoiled” by this latest outpouring of help towards his independence and improvement of his daily life.
“People have been giving me things and helping me out ever since I got injured. I haven’t got used to it,” Tomlinson said.
The Marine said he enjoys “outdoorsy stuff” and can’t wait to really put the chair to the test.
“I’m told we can drag a few things, so I might drag my brothers around,” he said with a smile.
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.