2019 Annual Newsletter

Whirlwind Goes Back To Our Roots

Bruce CurtisWith the holiday season approaching, we would like to thank all of you whose contributions have helped give hope and support to so many people around the world this past year.

As many of you are aware, Whirlwind has undergone many changes in 2019, including the retirement of the Executive Director, Marc Krizack, and the addition of its original Founder and Chief Engineer, Ralf Hotchkiss to the Board of Directors. These changes have resulted in a new direction and challenge for the work Whirlwind will be undertaking in 2020.

Ralf’s original vision included helping to develop small metal-shops that are capable of manufacturing the Roughrider wheelchair, using hand tool technology and standard bicycle parts, while also providing local wheelchair repair, modifications and employment for persons with disabilities to manufacture, repair and modify wheelchairs.

Recent Wheelchair Market Trends

Since the early 2000s, almost all of the major wheelchair makers in the world are currently making their wheelchairs in large factories in China. Many of the small wheelchair making businesses in developing countries, which also employed wheelchair users as workers, went out of business in the last 15 years because they were unable to sell their wheelchairs for a commercial price after religious and humanitarian charities donated thousands of free wheelchairs into their countries. That immense flood of chairs bankrupted local wheelchair businesses, and also eliminated the local wheelchair repair services, as the economics of fixing those factory chairs no longer made sense.

In today’s world, some wheelchair users in developing countries are receiving higher quality wheelchairs through free international donations but they cannot find any wheelchair repair services to sustain the active life of their wheelchair and after 1-3 years are desperately searching for a replacement wheelchair.

A New Chapter

After 15 years of successful work manufacturing the RoughRider in a modern Chinese factory, in order to provide large quantities of wheelchairs for international distribution, Whirlwind has witnessed the benefits of quality production jigs and quality control inspection in order to produce thousands of reliable and safe wheelchair. Therefore, we are now revisiting the original vision of promoting and sustaining small-scale wheelchair businesses with new and valuable perspectives about how to upgrade and improve their production jigs and the importance of  training staff to conduct quality control inspections. 

Whirlwind wants to offer the small RoughRider manufacturers our newest design of the RoughRider wheelchair, including new seat and back upholstery and the handbrake design. In order to increase the active life of all RoughRider wheelchairs, Whirlwind wants to update their understanding of the importance of using sealed bearings, aluminum hubs and rims, as well as how and where to purchase quality parts.

Beginning in 2020, Whirlwind will begin to provide technical assistance to the surviving small RoughRider manufacturers/businesses in developing countries and help them to:

  • Update earlier models of the Roughrider wheelchair to the latest design
  • Improve the existing welding jigs
  • Source raw materials and repair parts at the best quality & lowest price
  • Train staff to evaluate each wheelchair user according to WHO wheelchair provision guidelines

Whirlwind Needs Your Support!

Whirlwind creates and supports Wheelchair Ecosystems. We make small-scale wheelchair businesses possible, with a wheelchair product that provides daily mobility to people who might not have any other opportunity to leave their home.

We would like to invite you to join us by making a very generous contribution this holiday season to help us implement our goals of helping wheelchair users to stay active and working in their communities around the world. Your donation also helps Whirlwind to promote and support small businesses, which employ wheelchair users, while also providing local wheelchair repair services and modifications.

Purchasing RoughRiders Helps Us Too!

Another way you can help us would be to consider purchasing a RoughRider wheelchair for an elderly parent or a relative or even a friend who could benefit from having a way to go outside and enjoy the world. The profits from each Roughrider wheelchair sold on our website directly funds Whirlwind’s operating budget, they are as crucial to our survival as traditional donations!

Much of what we are trying to accomplish will take time, and with your support, you are helping Whirlwind to change the lives of so many people all over the world. I hope you will join us to help expand our reach and influence into the new year.

With gratitude, 

Bruce Curtis
Chairperson of the Board of Directors


Stories From RoughRider Recipients

Christina Rodriguez, who lives on Pico Island in the Azores Islands of Portugal recently purchased a Roughrider wheelchair to continue her daily walks with her 75-year-old husband who has Parkinson’s.

“We do need the wheelchair quite urgently …my husband still walks a bit but without the wheelchair there is no way we can go out every day as we try to …and it would be a shame.”

Deanna Welka in memory of her father:

“My father is in a hospice and we have been taking him outside, along a gravel path beside a creek, in a regular wheelchair …needless to say we broke the wheelchair. This led me to think that a donation of a gravel and grass friendly wheelchair to the hospice in my father’s memory, might be a useful gift for other families who wish to take their loved ones farther afield to enjoy nature.”

Alejandro D’Armas Menéndez, a double amputee in Havana, Cuba:

“Since receiving my RoughRider my life has changed radically. In the same moment that it was taken out of the box and was assembled, I felt an attraction very similar to love at first sight, really. My heart was beating strongly, my hands were sweating. I could smell the sweet fruit of an unequaled [gift], and… experienced a nervousness like I [have] never known before.”

 From Caitlyn Meyers in Iceland:

I’ve now had my RoughRider for a couple years and it continues to give me access to parts of my life that I thought I would never get back… I rounded a corner of the steep path along Þingvellir Iceland, on this most recent trip, guiding my chair around obstacles, and suddenly saw an entire waterfall that I hadn’t known existed. On our honeymoon, I’d had to stop at the top of that path because I knew my legs wouldn’t carry me. I feel so grateful for what my RoughRider has given me and how much more I can accomplish now.

A RoughRider for an Indigenous Grandmother

In July, Whirlwind received a request to provide a RoughRider wheelchair for Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim (95yrs) in support of her work as Chief Spokesperson for the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers

Grandmother Agnes had two common hospital transport wheelchairs, which did not move easily over the grass or gravel and were very difficult to use in rural or dirt environments. Her daughter Nadine (69yrs) would push her wheelchair whenever Agnes was traveling internationally to attend important events.

Whirlwind received a donation from Plenty International for the cost of the wheelchair, which would make it much easier for Nadine to push Grandmother Agnes over the rough terrain they encountered during their international travels, and with a frame that is strong enough to survive rough handling by airplanes and taxis and which can be easily and cheaply repaired by using local welding shops or standard bicycle parts. 

Whirlwind’s Chairperson, Bruce Curtis, and Levan Talakhadze, a wheelchair technician certified by the World Health Organization to evaluate wheelchair users, drove from Berkeley, California to the home of Grandmother Agnes in Grants Pass, Oregon in October 2019 to deliver the Roughrider wheelchair. Levan adjusted the length of the footrests and the height of the armrest for her to be comfortable and attached a push handle extender, which would make it easier for her daughter Nadine to push the wheelchair with one hand. Levan also provided some simple explanations for how to use the wheelchair going down the ramp or across her front lawn. Agnes said that it was the very first time she had traveled over her front lawn.

Sadly, we recently received notice that Grandmother Agnes had died on November 27, 2019, just one month after receiving her new wheelchair. Whirlwind has sent an email expressing our sadness at her passing and encouraging her daughter Nadine, to donate Grandmother Agnes’s Roughrider wheelchair to another indigenous grandmother or someone else in her tribe.

One World Project in Morocco

During September and October 2019, Whirlwind’s Bruce Curtis and Salam Hassan provided technical assistance and supervision in Morocco, as disability consultants to the International Research And Exchange Board (IREX), in order to implement a 12-month project in 4 Provinces of Morocco, Beni Mellel, Draa’a, Marrakesh and Tetouan, with IREX’s Moroccan disability partners, the disability NGO White Dove and the social enterprise Peace Wheels. IREX’s Morocco project will educate local wheelchair users, DPOs, government officials and media journalists about the need for buying different models of wheelchairs and for the provision of wheelchairs according to WHO Basic guidelines.

Hayat El Machfou learning how to do a wheelie, instructed by Salam Hassan

Hayat El Machfou, Vice President of the Moroccan Parliament of Morocco, accepted our invitation to participate in the 1st Wheelchair Skills Training Camp, which was held in Marrakesh from September 9-14, 2019.

Hayat El Machfou, who had polio when she was young, uses crutches and a wheelchair, and wanted to improve her wheelchair skills. She participated in all 5 days of the 1st Wheelchair Skills Training Camp and received a certificate of completion. She also received one of the active wheelchairs, purchased by IREX’s One World Project through USAID’s CLASP Program, as did most of the wheelchair users who participated in the Camp.

Tomasz Tasiemski PhD, with training participants

Tomasz Tasiemski PhD, a Master Trainer who uses a wheelchair and is the Dean of the Active Rehabilitation Department at the University of Poznan, Poland, implemented the wheelchair skills training for 19 participants from 4 provinces.

The wheelchair users participated each day in a wheelchair comparison and evaluation research study, which was translated into Arabic and the data was entered into a database. Tomasz believes he will be able to write and publish an article in a professional journal about the participants‘ evaluation of the 5 different models of wheelchairs.

Training Graduates with Tomasz Tasiemski, Bruce Curtis and Salam Hassan

Frank Barham Memorial Fund

In 2018, Whirlwind received a generous donation of $25,000 from the widow of Frank Barham, to provide subsidized Roughrider wheelchairs to individuals who could not afford to pay the full price. 

So far, in 2019, Whirlwind has shipped subsidized Roughriders to wheelchair users in New Mexico, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Missouri and Montana.

  • Jeffrey Wasilowski, a recent double amputee, had only a broken wheelchair.
  • James Sharp, receives a small social security check, and loves camping outdoors.
  • LaRae Gallegos, living on Social Security, was in a car accident five years ago and her wheelchair does not work well in the Montana environment.

Whirlwind will continue providing subsidized Roughriders as we get requests from individuals who cannot afford the full price. Please consider making a donation in support of Whirlwind providing subsidized Roughriders for Americans who are living on a fixed income and cannot afford to purchase a Roughrider wheelchair.