Cash Goeppert’s condition makes speech not always forthcoming or understandable, but on the morning of Oct. 21 he had a clear directive for his dad Cameron: “Go faster.”
That was the first day Cash and his Turlock family got to take his new wheelchair — a replica of a remote-controlled Bigfoot truck — out for a spin and the experience was an overwhelming success.
“My mind is blown away right now,” said Cameron Goeppert. “This is way above and beyond what we were thinking.”
Cash has spinal muscular atrophy, which is a neuromuscular disease that causes muscle atrophy and weakness. It’s caused by a defect in the Survival Motor Neuron 1 gene. As a result of SMA, muscle movements are drastically limited. SMA has two types and in Cash’s case of Type 1, tasks such as swallowing, breathing and holding his head up are met with extreme difficulty.
Cash got his new ride from Magic Wheelchair, a nonprofit organization that has the goal of putting “a smile on the face of every child in a wheelchair by transforming their wheelchairs into awesomeness created by our hands and their imaginations.” The organization funds the entire build and relies on volunteers to get the project completed.
The nonprofit was founded by Ryan Weimer, who has a son — Keaton — with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Keaton decided he wanted to be a pirate for Halloween one year and Weimer was struck with inspiration that Keaton’s wheelchair could become a part of the costume with a bit of creativity and tinkering.
“I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew it could be done somehow,” Weimer stated on the organization’s website. “I don’t believe that there are any goals, dreams, or aspirations in life that can’t be achieved. And besides, I was only building a pirate ship, not finishing a PhD in engineering. I drew out some rough plans, and had to start over once or twice, but in the end we came out with a pretty awesome pirate ship for Keaton to sail around in for Halloween.”
Cash’s mom Ashley saw a news item about the organization and set about seeing if it would work for her son.
“When I first asked Cash about it, he said he wanted a pirate ship, Santa’s sleigh or a Bigfoot truck. In the end it was the Bigfoot that really captured Cash’s interest.”
He also had two requests: he wanted it to be blue and orange and have working lights. Both requests were met.
Actually making the wheelchair was the task of teacher Scott Myers and his family and students.
Myers heard about the Magic Wheelchair program while speaking at a conference about his mask-making class as part of the be.next video design academy at the Lathrop High School campus. The academy is part of the be.tech charter.
The project instantly appealed to Myers’ creative side and he joined the organization in August. By September he was partnered with the Goepperts and sketching out the design.
Five of Myers’ students would spend two hours after school every Friday helping on the project.
All total about 220 hours went into the project. It weighs about 40 pounds and is capable of being folded down for easy transport. The giant tires are made of a special foam with a resin painted over it to give it the look of real tires.
This last week the students were on vacation, so Myers’ wife Jennifer and their three children — Porter, Evan and Caden stepped in to make sure it was all done by Sunday morning.
The process of making it proved to be much more meaningful for Myers and his students than any other they had undertaken in the classroom.
“What we did here was bigger than me or the program,” Myers said. “It was great that we were able to take the tools here and the skills we have and create something special for a family that really deserves it. And he’s going to have the best costume on his block.” ■