Donovan Lassig credits his GRIT all-terrain wheelchair for empowering him to go places conventional wheelchairs often can’t. Thanks to the wheelchair’s two levers that propel him forward, Lassig can power through nearly any type of surface on his own.
“It’s easy to use,” says Lassig, 19, who lives in Rockford with his family and is a dual student at Grand Rapids Christian High School and Grand Rapids Community College. “You don’t have to worry about the weather that much, so when it snows, you don’t have to worry about your hands getting covered in snow.”
When he was 14 years old, Lassig was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called hereditary spastic paraplegia that eventually took away the use of his legs.
“The all-terrain chair has been amazing for Donovan,” says Lassig’s mother, Bridget Lassig. “He gets a lot of attention from it, because it’s a cool-looking chair and everybody wants to understand the engineering of it.”
But she wants others to experience the same freedom her son does.
Two chairs available for loan
That’s why she launched the Facebook page GRIT Trailblazers of West Michigan
where people may reserve the use of two GRIT wheelchairs. She was able to purchase the wheelchairs thanks to the fundraising efforts of Coopersville-based Lori’s Voice, which provides financial assistance for adaptive equipment, and a GoFundMe campaign
. Reservations also may be made via Bridget’s email address at firstname.lastname@example.org
“We’re starting to loan them out in Kent County and hoping to expand throughout West Michigan as the need develops,” Bridget says. “The GRIT wheelchairs are designed for multiple purposes. First and primary is to help people with mobility challenges access more than they can access now.”
GRIT wheelchairs are a mix between a manual wheelchair and a mountain bike. They enable users to navigate across a variety of surfaces on their own by using two levers they pump back and forth to provide the added torque needed to propel them forward.
Thanks to his adaptive chair, Donovan Lassig now travels trails, grassy parks, and the beach on his own. He’s also a member of Christian High School’s track team and competes in the annual Reeds Lake Resolution Run in East Grand Rapids.
Donovan provides a laundry list of the benefits his GRIT wheelchair provides. His hands stay clean; it’s easy-to-use; he can propel and stop himself; tight turns are effortless; it easily navigates curbs; and it is easy to take apart and reassemble. All the moving parts can be replaced in a bicycle shop.
“You can get skinny tires up to a mountain bike tire, which allows movement over many different types of surfaces,” Bridget Lassig says. ‘There are three wheels, with one of them on a boom that extends out from under the seat to the front, balancing the wheelchair, so you can manage tougher territory.”
Levers help users power through
The GRIT wheelchair is the brainchild of a group of MIT engineering students who designed a prototype 15 years ago back when GRIT meant Global Research and Innovation Technology. The company now is known as GRIT.
Instead of relying on someone pushing the wheelchair from behind, GRIT wheelchairs are lever-driven, using a chain that enables the user to cruise faster than walking speed on smooth ground, or climb up hills and roll through grass, dirt, and sand.
The students initially had an eye on making them available to people living in developing nations, according to Alex Guarco, GRIT’s senior operations manager. But in time, stakeholders saw its potential as an all-terrain wheelchair that could be marketed in the U.S. Prototypes were made using input from people who would actually use the chairs.
Alex Guarco, a member of the MIT student design team that first created the GRIT all-terrain wheelchair.
“We were able to improve the design of the chair and make it easier to disassemble,” Guarco says. GRIT wheelchairs have quick-release parts that enable them to fit in the trunk of a small car.
“One thing we see too often in the industry is able-bodied folks making decisions for people who are not. During the prototype process, we’ve received comments from users virtually and in-person, so all of our accessories exist because of folks asking for them, saying there’s a need for this accessory.”
‘’The big, primary feature is the leverage,” Guarco says. “Instead of putting their hands on hand-rims, they use the two levers that slide to the left and right of their bodies. They’re getting about twice as much of physical efficiency out of the motion to go farther. And they’re also using bigger muscle groups.”
GRIT manufactures the chairs in Yakima, Washington, and sells several models, including its most recent one, a bariatric chair for those who weigh up to 400 pounds. Models for people who have only one arm are also available. More information is available at https://www.gogrit.us/
The cost for GRIT wheelchairs ranges from $2,995 to $5,495.
This article is a part of the multi-year series Disability Inclusion, exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.