Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Polio activist stops to offer encouragement
By Byron Crawford
He was riding a BMW California Highway Patrol-style motorcycle with a sidecar.
She was riding a Norwegian Fjord mare named Ingrid with a sugar-lump disposition.
"Motorcycle" Bob Mutchler, 57, who survived childhood polio and now has postpolio syndrome, and Carla Johnson, survivor of a car accident 23 years ago when she was 17, share something in common: Both essentially have lost the use of their legs.
Their trails crossed in Lexington this week at the Central Kentucky Riding for Hope stables, a therapeutic riding center on the backside of the Kentucky Horse Park, when Mutchler made a stop on his Rotary International PolioPlus nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the need to eradicate the disease worldwide.
"I'm very driven to make sure that there are no more like me, because I hurt every day of my life," Mutchler said.
"Today is a hurting day. Yesterday wasn't so bad."
Mutchler, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., was in understanding company at Riding for Hope, where many of the youngsters and adults who ride horses for therapy live with daily pain.
A horse lover since childhood, Mutchler had ridden his motorcycle from Charleston, W. Va., to Lexington on Monday and would travel on to Frankfort on a journey that eventually will take him to each capital in the lower 48 states and to all the provincial capitals of Canada.
His message to riders: "Don't ever give up, don't ever use the word 'can't,' and find a way to do what you want to do."
The piano technician/tuner, who spent his early years in an iron lung, has rigged up a hand-shifting mechanism and a hand-operated rear-braking system on the motorcycle.
"You might turn a light switch out one way, and I might do it totally different, but the fact that I do it is what matters," he said.
"When I said I wanted to ride a motorcycle, everybody said, 'How could you?' But now I ride 1,000-mile days, and I have traveled 1.2 million miles on motorcycles as of last July."
Riding for strength
Johnson agrees with Mutchler's philosophy. She now does almost everything that she did before the car accident, she said, except in different ways.
"My sensation level stops around my waistline, so I don't really have the stomach muscles I used to have, and what I do have are way underdeveloped because I'm always in this (wheel) chair and I have support," Johnson said.
"I'm never free like I am on a horse, which forces me to use these muscles."
Pat Kline, executive director of Central Kentucky Riding for Hope, notes that in addition to Riding for Hope's regular therapeutic riding program, Cardinal Hill Hospital in Lexington also uses it for some rehabilitation therapy.
For many of the 106 people who ride at Riding for Hope, just getting on a horse is a triumph.
"We started out 24 years ago with four people and a couple of borrowed horses, and we've grown to 19 horses and 288 active volunteers," Kline said.
"It's sort of a motto here with us to focus on ability rather than disability, and empowering the spirit."
When Johnson finished her riding therapy on Ingrid on Monday, she climbed aboard Motorcycle Bob's BMW, just to get the feel.