Sometimes changing a life starts with a dream. Such was the case with a group of friends who wanted to do something meaningful and rewarding for local veterans, first responders, and their families. Calling themselves the Lady Patriots of the Eastern Shore, they decided two years ago that as their first project, they would provide mobility to an Eastern Shore veteran who had lost that function. Their vision, however, went beyond typical transportation. Instead, they hoped that a special All-Terrain Action Wheelchair would allow a wounded veteran to enjoy the best parts of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, including hunting, fishing, etc.
Connie Sheer, president of the group, said the idea for the chair came from a news program that she overheard. “A rock band was donating a chair to a veteran,” she said. “The chair was absolutely fabulous, and I thought, ‘wow, I wonder if we could do this.’ I took the idea to the board, and they agreed.” In March 2017 they began raising money with help from sponsors: Cheesecake Girls, Crabi Gras, Graul’s Market, and Teddy Bear Fresh and donors which included Tri-County Ruritan Club, Zone 6, Easton Rotary Club, District 7630, Flags for Heroes, VFW, Post 5118, VFW, Post 7464-Grasonville, and The Elks Club, Lodge 1622. In addition, local businesses held fundraisers and donated several crab feasts and Thanksgiving dinner which were raffled off.
By the end of last summer, the Lady Patriots had grown to over 30 members and met their goal, raising the $16,000 to buy the chair. The question now became who would be the recipient. The answer came from a partnership with another veteran’s group out of Dorchester—Heroes Haven whose mission is to transport wounded warriors, injured police, EMS and firefighters in their van for a 4-day October hunting, fishing, crabbing experience. The Lady Patriots offered the chair to the group. But Hank Wheatley, president of Heroes Haven, had another idea, said Sheer. “He knew that they were limited by the hunting season and that we wanted it to go to an individual who could use it all the time, so they identified Rick.”
Rick is Rick Lawson, a former Marine from Wicomico County. He had sustained injuries over various tours of duty, had undergone spinal cord surgeries, but had been unable to walk since 2006. An avid outdoorsman, he and his wife Tammy live on 18 ‘rugged’ acres. He used to love hunting and fishing and hanging out at the sporting shop. They all agreed, he was perfect.
On February 14, 2019, the Lady Patriots presented the chair to Mr. Lawson. “It’s equipped for someone who would use it outdoors, says Sheer. We put in a rifle stand, tool box/tackle box, floodlight. With where he lives, he definitely has the room to use the chair. It also goes in sand, ice, snow, and can even go into a foot of water.”
Lawson considers it a blessing. He hopes to start enjoying the wooded area around his home again. There are a lot of plans, he says. He wants to go fishing, he can’t wait to go hunting. He’s also hoping for snow since there is a snowplow that attaches to the chair (donated by Off-Road Track Chair) and he wants to try it out. “We have a long driveway, and normally, I would have to hire someone to plow,” says Lawson, “but with this chair, I’ll be able to do it myself.”
But before he can do that, he has to get approval from Tammy. “I’m trying to train myself, but my wife won’t let me out of her sight till she knows that I’m able. I’m trying to learn how it reacts to different situations and circumstances. It’s going to give me independence.”
Lawson’s reaction and how the chair will change his life is everything the Lady Patriots hoped to accomplish. But his life is not the only one they touched. Besides raising money for the chair, they also helped a veteran’s widow repair her roof and helped another veteran with rent and groceries. As for their new big project, they’re not sure, says Sheer. It’s under discussion, but they look forward to continuing to serve and give back to those who protect our country and communities.
If you’d like to know more about Lady Patriots of the Eastern Shore or want to help go here
Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.