We recently profiled Steve Kriz’s wife, Vickie. Now it’s Steve’s turn. His story is very distinct from hers, but we delight in having them both in the Nature Center family. We don’t see Steve often, in part because he’s reliant on Vickie to transport him to ICNC from their home in Mount Vernon, and faces other challenges. But we hope to see more of him in the future.
Nature — and especially hiking — was a part of Steve’s growing up years. “When I was about five years old, every Sunday my folks would go over to my grandmother’s and grandpa’s and have Sunday dinner. After dinner my grandfather would take me out for a walk. I think that’s where I got the hiking (bug) from. Weather permitting, we’d go out to (all sorts of) different places. I really enjoyed that. In the ‘60s we moved out to the country, so the (hiking) thing with my grandpa and me stopped, but I always had hiking (interest) in my blood. I was a Boy Scout, and we’d go hiking. We went to New Mexico (to Philmont Scout Camp) for two weeks. I enjoyed the hiking and outdoors there.” Vickie added, “Steve’s family did a lot of camping and boating and just lots of outdoor stuff all the time.”
These days, Steve experiences life from a wheelchair. At 19, while in college and on the swim team, he broke his neck in a freak accident while bodysurfing in Florida during Christmas break. He might have drowned had it not been for actions taken by his best friend, who was with him at the time. Vickie shares, “When we were first married, Steve walked with a cane. That lasted for many years.” The passing of 50 years and some hard physical labor have taken their toll on Steve’s body, so these days a wheelchair is how he gets around.
So when Steve found out that the Nature Center was offering free use of all-terrain chairs for a week, he was thrilled for the chance to try one. During the Nature Center’s first-ever BioBlitz in late June-early July 2023, ICNC rented three all-terrain chairs through Access Ability Wisconsin (AAW). As we shared back then, “The all-terrain chairs can go where regular wheelchairs can’t go — providing greater access to nature for anyone living with a permanent or temporary physical disability.”
Steve shared, “I’d been looking at them (all-terrain chairs) for a long time, but had never gotten to try one.” And what was the experience like? “It was just like a regular wheelchair (in that) I was familiar with it right away. It was pretty cool.”
Steve experienced one of these specialty chairs on two different days — once with Vickie and once by himself. With glee, Steve said, “It pooped her out.” Vickie laughed and admitted that was the case. “He was ahead of me most of the time.” She added, “The one thing he wanted to do — and I knew he couldn’t resist doing it — was to go through a section of the prairie where you go over some bumps. You don’t know what’s underneath there. So then he asked me to record him. All I remember seeing was a head bopping up and down. And then he comes out of the grasses and there he is. And he had the biggest smile on his face.”
Steve also relished venturing through the woods behind Amazing Space, where he “enjoyed the outdoors, the trees, plants and raspberries.” With the raspberries, he said, “the only thing that was missing was whipped cream.” Steve managed well, even when going up and down the steep hills, using the chair’s tilt feature. He says his biggest highlight was going into the woods on the Sycamore Loop, near the Sac & Fox Trail and Indian Creek. “The oak trees are huge! They survived the derecho because they’re down lower. It was shady in there, and cool.”
“I enjoyed just sitting there, for the quiet. And the wind. Let the wind do the talking,” Steve said. Vickie added, “Being able to go out onto the trails and just sit and listen to some of those sounds that he doesn’t normally get to hear, in a busy town — that means a lot for him.” Steve shared that he was born deaf. Over the years he used hearing aids with increasingly more advanced technology, and these days manages quite well with a cochlear implant in his left ear. Over time, with his left ear he has learned to compensate for the total lack of hearing in his right ear.
Steve said that after he had his all-terrain chair experiences, he encouraged others to try it out. He made contact with a woman who wanted to get her father to try it. Her dad was reluctant, and said no. But after the daughter shared Steve’s positive feedback with her father, he changed his mind, tried out one of the chairs, and enjoyed his experience. That gave Steve “a feel-good moment.” He thinks the biggest problem in getting people to try an all-terrain chair is fear. Vickie added, “It is a little intimidating when you first see one.” Some people think of the chairs as “beasts.” But, Steve says, “Once you have control of the beast, you can turn it into a gentle lamb.”
Steve shared, “I’ve always wanted to get back hiking. When that (all-terrain chair) came around, that was a big opportunity. I thought I’d give it a try.” He gives the experience two thumbs-up and looks forward to the time that he can have similar experiences at ICNC in the future. So do we.