BRANDON — While the jake Ben Wimett shot on the opening day of Vermont’s turkey season wasn’t his first, it was the first bird he’d shot from his new “wheelchair.”
Wimett, 36, has been deer and turkey hunting since he was a youth. He has cerebral palsy, so getting out in the woods with his father and brothers took some extra planning, but they managed.
“A couple of years ago, my dad got Lyme disease, and it’s been a long-term thing for him where he couldn’t … he’s still Superman to me, but he couldn’t physically lift me into the places where he used to, because the method we were using was getting harder,” said Wimett.
Wimett is an assistant technology specialist for the University of Vermont and the state.
“Basically, if somebody has a disability, they get referred to me,” he said. “If they live in southern Vermont, I’m the guy that helps them figure out how to eliminate their barriers. I can lend them out equipment to drive for up to 30 days, it’s kind of like a library.”
Last May, he learned about a company in Minnesota called Action Manufacturing that makes mobile chairs fitted with caterpillar treads instead of wheels. He figured it would cost $17,000, and despite it being the beginning of what was looking to be a long pandemic, put up a GoFundMe page.
“In six days, we raised $19,000,” he said.
Many people donated, he said, and Greg Boglioli at Vermont Field Sports offered to match donations of $500.
“And a couple other people did that, and before we knew it we had the money we needed,” said Wimett.
The chair works great, he said. His father still helps in and out of it and helps him get into his blind, but besides that, he’s far more mobile in the outdoors than he was before.
“I can run over trees, logs, it’s got these big anti-tippers in the back of it so I can’t flip over,” said Wimett. “I had to get used to it, so I wasn’t scared trying to do things, but I can go places where your average human being with a good pair of working legs has no business being.”
He’s working on getting a better way to transport the chair, as it’s far larger than a typical wheelchair. It’s battery powered and has a built-in light, but unfortunately, no heated seats.
David Wimett, Ben’s father, said his son has always wanted to hunt with his brothers and father, and all were happy to work on getting him the adaptive equipment he’d need.
“He enjoys being outdoors, period, and being part of something his brothers are doing,” said David Wimett.
He said Ben has only gotten the chair stuck once, early on, but the device has opened up new things.
“The first morning of turkey season, it was so wet in the field his normal chair would have gotten buried and he wouldn’t have been able to go,” Wimett said.
Both men were amazed by the community support they received for the chair.
“We’ve lived in the community a long time,” said Wimett. “We have a small car dealership, we know a lot of people. Ben is a very popular young man and known by many. When the pandemic started, people were looking for something to feel joy about and donating to him made people feel good.”