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Hand-crank bicycle gives freedom to wheelchair user Beth Bahr

BROOKSVILLE

Beth Bahr will park in the back of parking lots.

The 51-year-old Brooksville resident will be nowhere near the entrance and likes it that way. Confined to a wheelchair, Bahr enjoys the extra work wheeling the longer distance.

Despite having the blue handicap tag, Bahr rarely uses it.

"I see able people park in those spots, get out and walk," Bahr said. "It cracks me up because I want to ask, 'Well, what's wrong with you then?' "

Bahr has been in a wheelchair for more than 25 years.

That doesn't stop her from being active. Bahr will work out 18 to 20 hours a week, which includes wheelchair tennis and riding 60 miles with her hand-crank bike. Though Beth gets so wrapped up staying in shape that her husband, David, will have to pull back on the reins.

"Sometimes I have to bring her back down to earth," David said. "I wouldn't call it an obsession, but obviously its a big part of our lives."

To hell and back again

Beth was just 18 years old. Fresh out of high school in 1976.

She was driving, singing out loud to the tunes in the radio. The cars that passed her by, she didn't give much thought. That is until she saw one swerve into her lane and slam into her. It took just two seconds to change her life, but it came to her in slow motion, taking forever to end.

The accident ruptured her aorta. It was fixed with the help of some pigskin stitched to the largest artery in the body that takes blood to the entire body, but the damage to the nerves in legs were done. No blood meant no oxygen to her legs.

She wasn't paralyzed, but she couldn't walk, either. At 18, Beth didn't want to hear you're lucky to be alive, but you'll be in a wheelchair.

All she wanted to do was cross her legs like any other woman.

"That was a living horror," Bahr said. "I couldn't take it sometimes. I would bawl my eyes out seeing (others move their legs)."

The doctors gave her eight years to live. They were way off.

In 1996, she was wiggling her toes, wondering how she could lose 5 pounds. She went to see a doctor, who said that over time, nerve endings grow, and Beth now had more to where she could walk again with the help of crutches. So she trained to build leg strength. Her legs screamed in pain, but eventually, she was upright.

She could walk again after 21 years in a wheelchair. Beth could hit the treadmill at 2.6 mph. She walked for 12 years after that.

Then in 2005, fate showed up again, rearing its cruel head. Beth's knee started bugging her because some of the nerves were still a little screwy. She needed to have a procedure, one that would keep her off of her feet for six days.

No biggie, she thought, I can do this. That was until an orderly dropped her, damaging her tenacious body once again. The fall destroyed her patella and ruptured a tendon in one of her quads.

This time, she would never walk again.

"It's like going through hell twice," Bahr said.

Beth can move her legs, but they are too atrophied to support her. There is an ongoing legal battle that should be resolved soon. Its one of the reasons why David and Beth moved to Florida nine months ago.

That and the ability to bike all year long.

"Biking with the hand-crank (bike) gives you freedom," Bahr said. "You don't have much freedom left when you're in a wheelchair."

Too hot to trot

Perhaps Beth is a bit vain. Perhaps that's easy to grasp. She is, after all, strapped to a wheelchair. It's an accessory that goes with her wardrobe, but Beth figures, if she's going to be sitting, she's going to look good doing so.

"I like keeping fit because I'm going to look good in short shorts," Bahr said. "I'm not going to be fat and in a wheelchair. Too many people in wheelchairs make me look bad, and I want to look good because I'll feel better about myself."

Beth still gets angry. After everything that's happened, that can be justified. It's as though she's been teased and tortured most of her life. But her outlook is optimistic.

All she wants to do is bike, because she doesn't see herself "as not normal." Beth also realizes some people have it much worse. That doesn't mean she doesn't find herself hosting a pity party occasionally.

However, once that's over, the strong-willed Beth from the back of the parking lot will come rolling back.

"Sometimes there's a little depression there," David said. "But we keep busy enough that she forgets about it. It can set in briefly, maybe for a day, but it passes. I have to push her once in a while instead of reining her in.

"Beth always comes back and she's herself again."

Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas can be reached at mcamunas@sptimes.com or (352) 544-1771.

Hand-crank bicycle gives freedom to wheelchair user Beth Bahr 03/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 8:49pm]
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