From the time he first could cast a line, shoulder a rifle or climb a tree, Dillon Lynn spent every spare moment in the woods – a country boy with river water for blood.
Then at 13, his legs started to weaken and his breath gave out, to the point where walking the halls at school left him spent. The diagnosis: Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare disease that strikes the nervous system. He needed a cane at 17, then a walker and finally a wheelchair.
His speech became slow and somewhat slurred, and he painfully recalled being picked on at the high school down the road – not far from Rocky Mount in rural Edgecombe County. But the confinement was hardest to endure. As his disease progressed, Lynn stayed at home alone at the end of a dead-end road, his wheelchair unable to navigate the bumps in the front yard let alone a muddy riverbank.
His father would take him hunting, but the ride to their stand on the back of a four-wheeler tended to spook the deer. His wife, Amy, would take him fishing at Pepper House Lake with their twins, but the chair often got stuck. At 22, the man who lived to be outside found himself, by his own description, rotting indoors.
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“I was always in the woods,” he said. “Hunting. Fishing. Cutting down trees. Whatever. I wanted to live in the woods, just make a tent and stay there. All that stuff was taken away. It will mess with anyone’s mind.”
Then last week, a delivery man arrived with a gift almost as good as a new pair of legs. With donations from neighbors and friends, Lynn received an Action Track all-terrain wheelchair, featuring a pair of joystick controls, two 12-volt batteries, 20-degree tilting power, two sets of six wheels, treads plus a camouflage design.
I always got the feeling something good might happen. It did.
Three days after the new chair arrived, Lynn rolled down to the edge of the lake with his son Willie on his lap, baited a hook with a hot dog and reeled in a bream.
“I always got the feeling something good might happen,” he said. “It did.”
Patients with Friedreich’s ataxia slowly lose coordination and muscle strength, but their mental faculties stay intact. Lynn struggles to stand for more than 3 seconds on his own, and though he can pull himself out of a wheelchair without help, managing nearly 2-year-old twins Willie and Lilly isn’t possible.
So before the Action Track, he’d wait for Amy to get home from her job with Edgecombe County animal control, stewing in the house by himself, trying to think positive thoughts. His old motorized chairs have wheels that could fit a shopping cart, and he couldn’t travel much beyond the grill off the front porch.
He spotted the track chair in a brochure for Dixie Outfitters, priced at $13,000 – a far-off total. They applied for and received a $3,000 grant through the company that sells the chairs, but the rest took nearly a year to raise. The Lynns held a raffle with donated prizes. They had a yard sale. They sold snacks. They opened a page on gofundme.com. And near the end of their effort, they received $2,200 in community donations.
With the chair delivered, he got so many calls of congratulations and hits on his Facebook page that he finally cut off his phone at midnight. Within a day, he and Amy were planning a family vacation – their first.
“We are going to walk on the beach and hold hands,” she said. “We’ve never been able to do that before.”
Lynn rumbles across his front yard now, his chair handling the bumps and pine cones like a tank. As he tries out the controls, he hears the sound of turkeys in the distance and not-too-jokingly asks for his shotgun, imagining dinner.
Rather than kick about a bad hand of cards, Lynn found a way to play them and win the pot. With his hand on the joystick, a good battery beneath the seat, he can roll past what obstacles may come.