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Tom in the rental van

In the summer of '02, Tom flew to San Diego for a visit with classmate Frank Rodrick. At this point, Tom had never driven an electric wheelchair. Some people felt he wasn't capable of it, but Frank figured, it's got a joystick, he's a pilot, what can go wrong? That the alternative was him pushing Tom's large butt around surely had nothing to do with it. Tom was a little dubious about it. . .until he hit Forward on the control stick for the first time. His grin nearly split his face. Independent mobility! Speed!

Then came driving it into the van. The van was a rental, with a ramp maybe two inches wider than the wheelchair. But the first try, Tom flew up the ramp and stopped on a dime. Not really. He nearly went off the side and killed himself. Good thing Lori and the Smiths weren't around. The second try, though, that did it.

Tom coming down the ramp
But takeoffs are one thing; landings are another. Here's a shot of Tom's first descent from the van.

Over the stairs into Frank's house

The last hurdle was getting into the house in one piece. Probably the interesting shot here would have been of Frank's face as Tom hurtled towards his new door. But Tom made it without a hitch.

Tom in the shower
Once inside, new challenges awaited. Like, getting into a shower that wasn't designed for people in wheelchairs.

Tom playing FlightSim

And then, of course, they had to see who was the better pilot on Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Tom on a park path
The electric wheelchair really proved itself at the San Diego Zoo and Sea World. The zoo is built on a canyon with plenty of steep paths and Sea World stadium are entered via ramps. Here's Tom in a rare motionless moment.

Tom coming down a ramp
This is one of the wider ramps at Sea World. Tom had to relearn navigating and dodging traffic. . .all on a beat-up, junky rental chair with a sticky controller.

Three whales jumping

The payoff, of course, was that there was nothing Tom couldn't get to.

Tom and Frank in a park
Here are the boys posing at Mission Bay Park.

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