Editor’s Note: Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, Todd Lemay didn’t let frequent bone fractures keep him from getting a good education or having a successful career. After several years working as an auditor, he decided to start his own IT company. Then one day, he met a girl. Lemay told Wheel:Life writer Betsy Bailey all about the girl and how a date at the beach planted a seed that would later grow into TerrainHopper USA.
Years ago, when I was working as an auditor in Arizona, I got my first van. I had never driven before and had always been dependent on others to give me rides. Once I had a vehicle, it was freeing, and a lot easier for me to ask girls out. Instead of saying, "What time are you going to pick me up?" I could say, "I’ll pick you up at 7!"
One day, I met this girl at work, and we started dating. She had grown up in Minnesota and had never seen the ocean. So, we planned a trip to San Diego. I was on cloud nine. Not only was I going on my first road trip as a driver, but I had a girlfriend coming along, and she would get to see the beach for the first time thanks to me. Everything was great!
When we got to the ocean in San Diego, we got out of the car, went to the edge of the parking lot, and I said, "There's the beach! Isn't it amazing?" After a few minutes, she asked if I minded if she went down to the water and walked along the beach. Of course, with my wheelchair, I couldn’t go with her. She went to walk on the beach for the first time, and I was up in the parking lot watching. I missed out on that moment, and I can’t ever get it back.
I always kept that day in the back of my mind, and years later, when I became a little more successful and had the means, I decided to look up off-road chairs online. I went through the images but didn't really like what I saw, until I came across a small picture of a TerrainHopper. I did a little research and found out they were made in the United Kingdom. I contacted them about buying one, but they had never shipped to the United States and were reluctant to do so. It took me about a year and a half to convince them to send one to me. When I got it, it just changed my life. I could go to the beach, go hiking with my friends, explore the woods, and participate in trail riding with my mountain biking friends. Soon after, I decided to sell my IT company to focus on bringing the TerrainHopper to the United States.
Our target market is anyone who has a mobility challenge. It could be someone who is in a wheelchair or someone who just doesn’t have the ability or stamina to walk long distances or climb steep hills. Maybe that’s someone older with a bad knee who would love to go hunting with their kids or hiking with their grandkids but can’t walk that far. Or maybe they want to stroll on the beach. This allows them to get out and do those things.
The TerrainHopper comes in three sizes to accommodate almost anyone. The mini is designed for small adults and children. Then, there's the standard size for people under 6 feet tall, and the extended version for anyone over that. It's all electric, and one of the options is to make the motors and battery box waterproof, so you can go in about 2 feet of water. I've had mine in waves crashing up to my knee-level. It's got about 10 inches of ground clearance. It'll go up a 35º incline, down a 45º incline, and you can tilt side-to-side at about 25º. It's got four-wheel independent suspension, so it's not jarring at all, which is especially important for someone like myself with brittle bones.
There are also two different speed options. One is a top speed of 4 mph which is geared really low, so you can have more torque to go over rougher terrain. The other option can go up to 12 mph, which is about as fast as the average person can run full-out. Hiking speeds are usually around 2 mph, so most people prefer more capabilities and not necessarily speed.
We also have a number of different battery options depending on how far you’d like to be able to travel on one charge. The standard version has a range of 10-12 miles whereas the higher-end batteries can cover up to 35 miles. We have a monster tire option as well that will provide even more grip and off-road capability.
It's all hand controls, so there are no foot pedals. If you can't use the handlebars, we can outfit it with a joystick to accommodate any disability. It's the only true off-road wheelchair on the market that you can drive with handlebars. A lot of people out there can use their arms and hands and don't want to necessarily use the joystick. With the handlebars, you feel like you're more in control. It's a similar sensation to riding a dirt bike or a quad and gives people an extra feeling that they wouldn't get with the joystick.
Editor’s Note: On top of those mentioned above, TerrainHopper USA offers many other features to accommodate a variety of bodies and abilities. Pricing and details can be found at www.terrainhopperusa.com/products.
The girl from the story is now my wife, so the first thing I did when I got my TerrainHopper was go to the beach with her. I finally got to hold her hand and stroll along the beach with her. I also get to go bike riding with my nieces. Before, they would have to walk or ride really slowly. Now we go on bike rides or trails and I can keep up. I've had mine on the beach, in the woods, and in the mountains. It's a lot of fun and very liberating.
I think there are a lot of benefits to mental and physical health by getting outside.
I've been on some really basic dirt trails with my normal three-wheel motorized scooter, but it's very bumpy and I spend the whole time looking down at the ground wondering, "Can I get over that?” or “Is that going to be a big bump?" I can’t really look around and enjoy myself. With the TerrainHopper, it's such a smooth ride and the tires are so big that you don't really have to worry about that. You can actually spend your time looking around and enjoying the scenery. There's a reason why we have so many nature trails, parks, and beaches. People enjoy that experience. If you take that away from somebody, or somebody is not able to do it, that's detrimental to them.
The TerrainHopper Falls under the classification as an OPDMD (Other Power-Driven Mobility Device). This means anyone with a mobility impairment is allowed to use the TerrainHopper in all areas where members of the public are allowed to go. This includes hiking trails, woods, sidewalks, state parks, federal parks, and even public beaches.
Our focus is to change people’s lives by making TerrainHoppers available across the United States. We would like as many people as possible to experience the outdoors, and with the TerrainHopper, that can easily happen. One of our focuses is to work with organizations and state and federal parks to purchase TerrainHoppers and make them available for people to borrow or rent. The TerrainHopper will provide significantly more access to parks and recreation areas for the mobility challenged.
Our goal is to change people’s lives by providing the mobility challenged the ability to explore environments previously inaccessible to them so they can participate in outdoor activities like never before.
Editor’s Note: There is currently a waiting list, but you can reserve your TerrainHopper now at www.terrainhopperusa.com/reserve-now.
Check out the TerrainHopper in action on YouTube and follow on Facebook and Instagram for the latest news and photos.
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background including experience in marketing research at American Express, business operations and client relations with 601am, travel and culinary writing with VegDining, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy is excited to get back into writing, something she’s adored since childhood, and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. On top of her work with Wheel:Life, she also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!