From humble beginnings in 1988, British Columbia Mobility Opportunities Society (BCMOS) has grown to an organization that inspires people with disabilities around the world to re-imagine what’s possible.
In 1979 a regular outdoors-loving Vancouver teenager broke his neck in a skiing accident, becoming tetraplegic. Sam Sullivan subsequently attempted to get involved in accessible sports including wheelchair basketball and rugby, but struggled due to his limited arm function.
He particularly missed active leisure opportunities where he could get out of the city into nature and feel the sun on his face and wind in his hair.
Knowing there many others feeling this way, Sam formed BCMOS to allow access to the natural beauty of the Vancouver area – from city parks to backwoods trails.
The TrailRider allows people with disabilities to visit parks and trails for a variety of day trips and picnics and get-togethers.
The early years were spent trying to devise a battery-powered cart, based on a modified golf buggy, that could take on the area’s trails. There were a variety of problems with this, from battery life to an unwillingness by parks authorities to allow motorized vehicles on ecologically sensitive paths (much as they supported our aims, they were wary of opening up trails to motorbikes and ATV riders).
A new line of thought was required, so in the mid-90s Sam turned to a familiar face for inspiration. A few years back, retired engineer Paul Cermak had volunteered to modify Sam’s apartment to make everyday items accessible, inspiring the launch of a charity to do just that for others with disabilities, the Tetra Society of North America.
They met for coffee to talk it through. Paul immediately realized that a one-wheeled access device, powered by human helpers front and back, could take on far tougher terrain than a buggy – without causing ecological damage. Thus the TrailRider was born, literally sketched out on the back of a napkin.
Back in his garage, Paul tested the concept by adding a pneumatic tire underneath an old aluminum garden chair, with handles for the “sherpas” to steer. This prototype was an instant success, and BCMOS began building TrailRiders in 1995. (We’ve since sold over 160 of them around the world.)
The TrailRider has been tweaked over the years – to remove weight, add comfort and allow the unit to fold smaller to aid transportation – but remains true to Paul’s original vision.
They have taken hundreds of people with disabilities to places they never thought attainable: trailblazing expeditions to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp, the floor of the Grand Canyon, Machu Picchu and along the West Coast Trail. But more importantly, the TrailRider allows people with disabilities to visit parks and trails for a variety of day trips and picnics and get-togethers.
Research published in 2017 showed that the BCMOS program is transformative for people with disabilities, overcoming isolation and lifting spirits. Getting out into nature, and feeling the sun and wind leaves everybody feeling refreshed.