Editorial: A chair that gives vets freedom to enjoy Mother Nature, heal

  • The new “Freedom Chair” was developed by a company called GRIT, based in Medford, which has ties to MIT. It is designed to work on bumpy dirt roads and rugged trails, is lightweight and breaks down to fit in a small car — extremely convenient for most people.

Published: 2/16/2019 11:12:46 AM

Nature holds a potent healing power for the mind and soul. It’s a shame too few of us get outdoors regularly — especially given where we live, among so much balm nature has to offer with its fields and streams and forests, exerting a calming and healing property for those who step into its embrace.

Bobby Curley, president of the North Quabbin Trails Association, understands this better than most. Curley is an Appalachian Trail through-hiker. Locally, his association has developed miles of trails in the region, most of which have been enhanced to be fully accessible, which means that anyone, but certainly veterans who have been injured in the country’s service, can also get into the wild for nature’s therapy.

“We want vets together on the trails,” Curley, a veteran himself, said recently. “Any veteran is welcome … to be a part of this. I’ve seen this personally. Veterans, torn up inside, after about two hours out on the trail, they’re not thinking about why their brain wants to explode. It’s so simple.”

Now, Curley is helping spread the word and availability of a new kind of wheelchair that works on hiking trails like those in the North Quabbin, but also in other towns in the region, like the Gunnery Sergeant Jeffrey S. Ames Accessible Nature Trail, a loop trail at Mount Grace’s Alderbrook Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Northfield, which is also fully accessible. That way, those who are mobility impaired can drink the tonic that nature offers, especially on the 240 miles of trail that connects central Massachusetts to New Hampshire in the North Quabbin region.

The new “Freedom Chair” was developed by a company called GRIT, based in Medford, which has ties to MIT. It was designed to work on bumpy dirt roads and rugged trails, is lightweight and breaks down to fit in a small car — extremely convenient for most people.

Curley says the chairs are a hit with veterans. “I’ve probably taken out a dozen veterans,” he said. “Eight were skeptical, all 12 loved it. I want 1,000 vets in these Freedom Chairs.”

The Trail Association has worked with GRIT and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to make it easier for veterans to get the trail chairs through the VA — especially if the vet has had experience with the Freedom Chair and can demonstrate its therapeutic value as part of an individual’s medical treatment.

For area vets, that’s where Curley can help. He has a Freedom Chair that he’s eager to let veterans try. Curley seems more than eager to take a fellow vet out on those area trails his association has made so accessible. Once a veteran decides the Freedom Chair works, he or she can ask for funding through a VA clinic or hospital.

Then, it’s out into the woods to get a workout and to breath in deeply what Mother Nature has to offer us all.


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