ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Marine Staff Sgt. Anthony Gower can get around without pain, thanks to a new Segway given to him by a nonprofit group that helps wounded veterans.
Gower was caught in a roadside bomb blast in Iraq in 2005, injuring his left leg. Walking hurts his knee, which keeps him on pain meds.
But shortly after trying out his Segway, he was smiling.
“I don’t feel pain,” he said. “If I’d been walking, I would have been done.”
Gower was one of several veterans learning how to use Segways provided by Segs4vets, a program run by Disability Rights Advocates for Technology.
After training on the machines Monday and Tuesday, the veterans were presented with 51 of the electric scooters at an official ceremony Wednesday at the Marine Corps War Memorial.
The program has provided more than 500 Segways to disabled veterans, and it received 1,000 more machines from Jimi Heselden, the owner of the Segway Company, shortly before he died last month.
The two-wheeled scooters allow people to move simply by leaning in the direction they want to go while standing up.
The veterans had an instructor stand next to them as they learned how to go up and down inclines and slalom like a skier. They did considerably better than a Stars and Stripes reporter who tried one of the machines and fortunately did not run over anyone.
“You get on it and you pretty much meld with it,” said Army Cpl. Jayson Zimmerman, whose heels were shattered last October in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan.
Since then, he has gone through many corrective surgeries, and his feet might still have to be amputated.
Because it’s less painful to stand on the Segway than to walk on his own, Zimmerman gains more mobility with the Segway. For example, he can now go into the grocery store with his wife instead of waiting outside in the car.
Although the program is intended for veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dave Riley recently received a machine about 13 years after losing both arms and legs.
Riley was a rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard who became deathly ill after bacteria got into his bloodstream.
He got his Segway after meeting someone involved with the program. The difference it has made in his life is evident in a recent visit he made to Atlanta.
“I was able to maneuver through crowds like I was standing up instead of having a wide footprint of a wheelchair, where everyone is going, ‘Get out of the way, get out of the way: Wheelchair coming through,’ ” he said.
Now he wants to take his Segway off road.
Riley and Vietnam veteran Mike Hodge were at Tuesday’s training event as inspiration to veterans learning how to use their new machines, which cost about $7,700 each including the scooter, accessories and training. Segs4vets gave a machine to Hodge after a family donated one specifically for a Vietnam veteran, said Christine Black, who is on the Disability Rights Advocate for Technology’s advisory board.
Hodge, a former Marine, lost his legs near Da Nang in 1968. Since then, he’s been fitted with prosthetic limbs known as “stubbies,” because they don’t extend beyond the knee. For him, walking requires much more exertion than it does for people who have the use of both of their legs.
“I take three steps to your one, so by the end of the day, I’ve put in three days and you only put in one,” he said.
With the Segway, Hodge has much more energy to enjoy life. He has been lobbying the Department of Veterans Affairs for 10 years to provide Segways to disabled veterans.
“It is a mobility device that not only takes care of the psyche of the veteran but certainly the physical and medical conditions as well,” he said. “Much better for me to be standing up for my circulatory and physical condition than it is for me to be sitting in a wheelchair or on my butt in a chair all day.”