For one Arizona man, quitting is not an option. Having served in the first Iraq War and then as a firefighter, his is especially well-acquainted with perseverance.
But when his wife lost the ability to use her legs, he was given a much more difficult problem to solve: how to make her smile again.
Brad and Liz Soden have five children—two girls from Liz’s previous marriage and three boys from Brad’s. The kids shared the couple’s love of the outdoors, and every weekend the family was outside either hiking or camping. But one fateful accident would change their lives forever.
Liz loved the outdoors, but then she tragically lost the ability to even walk.
Before they were married, Liz suffered a serious injury in a car accident. On August 15th, 1999, their truck’s front left tire blew while Liz was driving. She lost control of the vehicle, and they crashed into an embankment.
Luckily, their three children, who had been in the backseat, were unharmed. But Brad broke his left leg in the crash, and Liz came out the worst: she was paralyzed from the waist down.
At the drop of a hat, Liz was now unable to do all the things she loved so much. At the hospital, she pleaded with her then-boyfriend Brad to go on, and “to find someone normal.”
“I find that unacceptable,” Brad said in an interview with Bloomberg.
He proposed by the hospital bed, and a few months later they were married.
Although Liz was happy that Brad was going to stay, things did not go so smoothly. Their marriage was going well, but everything Liz loved was now out of her reach.
Brad, not wanting Liz to feel left out, did his best to include his now disabled wife in all the family’s outings.
The family always included their mother in their outings, but Liz simply could not do the things she used to.
On one particular trip, the family decided to rent a handicap-accessible cabin in the hopes that Liz would be able to be included in more of the fun.
One morning, Brad spotted something extraordinary—a herd of elk were passing right in front of the cabin.
“I got so excited and wanted to share this experience with the entire family,” Brad wrote on his Tankchair website.
But they soon found that Liz’s wheelchair was having trouble keeping pace; it was simply not designed to go off-road. Worse, the chair became stuck in the mud, and the herd was slowly getting away.
Liz, not wanting the moment to pass her family, told them to leave her behind. She had never felt so helpless in her life and had started to cry.
“I got so mad at the situation,” Brad wrote on his Tankchair website. “The problem wasn’t the desire; the problem was that we had the wrong tools.”
Brad decided to do something about it: he would design a chair for his wife that would let her go off-road again.
Brad locked himself away in his garage and began building and experimenting with new wheelchair designs.
Meanwhile, she had no idea what was going on. Liz would hear strange sounds coming the garage, but did not have a clue as to what he was planning.
Although he had no formal engineering training, he was a mechanic when he served in the military. Still, his designs showed little promise. That is, until he received inspiration from his father-in-law.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if you could put tracks on that like a tank?” Brad’s father-in-law said according to the Tankchair website.
The comment inspired him. Brad had even worked on tanks while in the military. With tank treads on a wheelchair, his wife would be able to go anywhere. He set about building a new prototype that incorporated the treads into the design.
“It took me two years and a bunch of beer in my garage to figure out the first model,” Brad said in an interview with Bloomberg.
But when he unveiled it to his wife, she was ecstatic.
Liz was amazed at the result of Brad’s labor of love.
“I felt normal again, like there was nothing wrong with me,” Liz wrote on the Tankchair website.
Liz was able to do all the things she loved to again. She was able to keep up with her family no matter where they went.
“Words can not begin to describe the feeling I get when I am in one of these chairs, the freedom and independence is truly remarkable,” Liz wrote on the Tankchair website. “I don’t know where I would be right now if I did not have my wonderful husband by my side.”
Brad, for his part, is just happy he was able to make a difference in his wife’s life.
“The 10 million jumbo watt smile she had on her face when she came back from her hike was worth every minute I spent in the garage putting it together,” Brad wrote on the Tankchair website.
Brad’s perseverance is an example to us all. It shows us that no matter the tragedy that has befallen us, we should never ever give up.