I grin as the wind blows through my hair (OK, between the two of them). The smell of freshly-mown lawn permeates my nostrils, and the satisfying roar of the powerful V-twin engine rumbles. Cruising on a Harley? Nope, mowing the lawn. It all started when my wife tried our new mower.
“I think you can drive this thing,” says Teryll, as she pulls up smiling, not showing all the cards in her hand, methinks.
“Do you think so?” I’m a bit skeptical. History has taught (or at least presented several first-class opportunities to learn), that new endeavors do come with some risk and Murphy and his law is always available to lend a helping hand.
“It is really easy, and the controls are not touchy, I think you can handle it. Let’s get the lift and give it a whirl!” she says a little too enthusiastically, as if her love affair with lawn mowing is really over.
We live out in the country and have a lawn that is approximately five acres. The old lawnmower was slowing down, so Teryll had been spending a whole day mowing at least once a week. We finally broke down and got a new super-duper high-speed unit that has a zero turn radius — for her. But it dawned on her the first time she drove the mower that one only needs hands to operate it and that this might work perfectly for her darling husband.
Within minutes (seconds?) Teryll is back from the house with the “meat-hook,” our trusty battery-operated portable lift. We have installed a ring in the garage ceiling for just such an occasion, so I was soon hanging from the rafters! She pushes the lawnmower under me, lowers me down and presto! — pilot-installation complete. We tighten the seatbelts and add another large belt around my chest to hold me still. This seat feels every bit as comfortable as my wheelchair. I reach forward and put my paws on the controls, thinking maybe this will work.
“I think I’d like some way to shut the engine off if there’s an emergency,” I say, trying to anticipate some of what could possibly go wrong.
“OK, how about I fit a screwdriver through the key for now?” my wife replies, shoving it through the key.
I twist the key with the screwdriver and, sure enough, the lawnmower jumps to life! I then reach down, bump it back and the engine quits.
“Perfect!” I feel safer now. Next we put a couple of zip ties on the yellow knob that controls the blades. I can now easily hook a finger in the loop and lift the knob up to engage the mower.
“I think I’ll move the van out of the garage,” Teryll says, jumping into the vehicle, thereby negating one of the more expensive potential calamities.
In a few minutes I start the engine once more, and put my hands on the control levers. I gently push the levers forward and the mower starts moving forward out of the garage. I slowly pull back on the levers one at a time and find that it steers very responsively.
“Let’s go across to the big field and try to drive it around to get used to it,” Terryll says, wanting some room to play where nothing will get hurt.
I slowly creep across the lawn with the throttle near idle, my wife within reach of the key. Once in the open field I advance the throttle a little bit and try driving around. When it is moving straight ahead, it tracks pretty well with only small adjustments necessary. Pulling back on one of the levers while in forward motion causes a turn in that direction, and pushing it forward straightens out the turn. Simple. These things handle much like a wheelchair so it is quite natural to us folks who must use one.
“Let’s turn the mower on and play a little bit with that,” I say.
I pull the zip tie that is on the yellow knob, and the mower blades activate. Pushing forward on the levers, the mower starts to creep forward. Wow! After nearly 30 years, I am mowing a lawn!
Now it has been a few months since I first ran the mower, and I’m getting more and more comfortable with it. We just got a set of cuffs built because after a while my fingers kind of straighten out, making it hard to pull the levers backwards. I run the mower about half as fast as other people can, but that doesn’t matter at all as it is still a novelty and I love playing with anything that has an engine. It takes about four hours to do the whole yard, so I’m thinking I may have to slow down to prolong the fun. Hmmm … I wonder if irrigation and fertilizing equipment is in the works?
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of mower do you have?
Ours is a John Deere 757 zero turn mower, controlled by pushing and pulling two levers that control hydraulic motors on the main wheels. The farther you push the faster you go.
Did you set out to adapt a mower?
No, it just happened that way.
Can a quadriplegic drive one?
Absolutely, I’m a C5-6 quad with no finger movement and have no trouble operating this machine with just a few adaptations.
What adaptations did you do?
The only thing we did was extend the key using splint-building material and tie a couple of zip ties on the knob that controls the mower blades so that I can turn them on and off.
How long can you mow?
It takes me about four hours to mow the lawn now, but I have ridden it for five hours or more with no signs of pressure sores, probably because the vibration and bouncing keeps the blood circulating.