On September 10th, 2016, Dr. Glen House, a complete C7 quadriplegic, accomplished an amazing feat for the 5th time: he pushed a wheelchair up 13 miles to the magnificent 14,110 ft. summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs!
As a quadriplegic wheelchair user for over 20 years and a specialist in spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation, Dr. House is passionate about staying on the forefront of technology that can help him – and others with similar mobility challenges – maintain maximum independence. He says,
“If my life depended on it, I couldn't push to the top of Pike's Peak in a manual chair. But the Tailwind Power Assist Wheelchair makes the impossible possible. I think it's incredibly important for individuals who need to use some kind of mobility device to get around to know about this specific wheelchair and the technology that it has within it. For anyone with a disability or medical condition, the most important thing they can do is get and stay informed.” - Dr. Glen House, MD, MBA
Don’t miss this recent interview with Dr. House as he shares his inspiring story about how and why he made the climb to the top of Pikes Peak. He was interviewed by Mike Krivich, PT and Territory Manager for Clinton River Medical Products.
Why Pikes Peak? What prompted you to take on this endeavor?
When I became the Medical Director of the Penrose-St. Francis Health Services Rehabilitation in 2003, I learned about the Pikes Peak Challenge, a fundraiser for the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado (BIAC). About 500 people climb 14,115 feet over the course of a 13-1/2-mile trail to raise money for the organization.
I was interested in participating to help support the mission of the BIAC. And I can’t deny that I was drawn to the thrill and challenge of climbing over 14,000 feet in a wheelchair!
I’m also passionate about educating and inspiring others who face similar mobility challenges. Participating in the Pikes Peak Challenge gives me an opportunity to highlight the advancement of wheelchair technology, especially the Tailwind Power Assist, so that more people know about all of the options available to them.
Did you do any special training in preparation for the event?
Yeah, I did train all summer to do it, so it wasn't just jump in the chair and go. It was more endurance training because you’re constantly pushing the wheel.
What wheelchair did you use to make the climb and how long did it take?
A wheelchair can’t go on the actual trail, so I got permission from the city to use the road, which is usually closed to pedestrians and used for vehicles only.
If my life depended on it, I couldn't push to the top of Pike's Peak in a manual chair. When I first did the event in 2003, there was new wheelchair technology on the market called power-assist. Power assist wheelchairs have smart, software-driven motors that respond to user force on the hand rims by providing intuitive assistance. The motors adaptively help the user accomplish more with less effort. It also has automatic brakes that provide much greater control going downhill.
iGlide (Now Tailwind)
The first two times I made the climb in 2003 & 2004, I used a wheelchair called the iGlide Power Assist Wheelchair by Johnson & Johnson. The iGlide technology was purchased by Clinton River Medical Products in 2011. They continue innovating the technology and have since created the Tailwind Power Assist Wheelchair.
In 2003, I took several breaks and finished in 5 hours and 45 minutes. In 2004, I strove to make the climb in less than 4 hours. I didn’t take any breaks and finished right at that mark!
The iGlide wasn’t available when I did Pikes Peak Challenge in 2010 & 2012, so I used another power assist wheelchair available in the market. That was a little more difficult – it took approximately 8 hours to make the climb.
This year we did it with the Tailwind for the first time. I was excited to try the new technology built off the older iGlide model. There are settings from 1-9 that tell the motors how much assistance to give for each push. You can set each arm at a different assistance level if one arm is stronger than the other: for example, one arm could be set at 5 and the other at 9. For this climb, I set the level to 9 for maximum assistance.
If I were in just a manual chair, I probably wouldn't have gone just a half a mile on the low part. The Tailwind almost takes the mountain out of it. You're still going the distance, but it allows you to climb something that you could never climb on your own. I think the best analogy is this: if you were to ride a one-speed bike up a large mountain, it would be incredibly hard, sometimes even impossible. If you have a mountain bike and can gear down into first gear, you’re kind of taking the slope out. It's still hard, and you've still got to push, just like in a wheelchair, but it's almost like you're taking the mountain down.
What's really nice about the Tailwind is that if you push a little bit, you get a little bit of assistance. If you push a lot more, you get a lot of assistance. That's why I think it's very beneficial to use the Tailwind going up a hill; when I got to the steep parts I pushed harder and got more effort from the chair. It gives you just the amount of assistance you need.
Overall, the Tailwind technology was flawless and amazing. This year I made it to the top of Pikes Peak in 4 hours and 23 minutes with no breaks! I had all the trust in the world in the chair, and it came through.
Did you have any assistance during the climb?
Yeah, I had a support team. It wasn’t just me in a wheelchair - it takes an entire team to be able to do this.
This year, my awesome 16-year-old daughter walked/ran the whole time along side of me, playing motivating music on her iPhone and giving support and encouragement to keep going. That was incredibly helpful!
We had two cars; my sister, Shelly Templin, drove a truck behind me with the lights flashing to alert passing cars, and my daughter’s speed skating coach, Dr. Glen Winkel, came along to drive the van in front of me.
Dr. Pio Guerrero, a colleague of mine, was there to monitor my oxygen levels as we climbed higher and higher. We had six oxygen tanks on hand in case we needed them for either myself or someone in one of the vehicles.
And you were there, Mike, to make sure the Tailwind wheelchair was functioning properly and help swap batteries throughout the climb.
I couldn’t have done it without this great support team!
How hard was it to make it all the way to the top of Pikes Peak?
Because this is my fifth time doing the Pikes Peak Challenge, I knew what to expect, which helped a lot. It was still very difficult; not only the climb but the elevation. The air is incredibly thin. Even on a sunny day, it's freezing up there. One of the biggest challenges was the preparation of making sure we had everything from the endurance standpoint – fluids, electrolytes, and the right food. The climb is pretty punishing: I had tape and pads, and still at the end had torn some of the skin off my hands just from repetitively hitting the push rims.
Out of the five times I’ve wheeled up Pikes Peak, this time seemed easier than the others because of the Tailwind Power Assist Wheelchair technology. Not that it was easy! But it made the impossible possible. And that's really what I want to get across to other wheelchair users: The Tailwind takes away barriers.
What did you enjoy most about the experience?
The thrill of climbing to 14,000 plus feet in a wheelchair! We started at 5:30 in the morning. The sun wasn’t even up yet. As I began climbing the mountain, the sun was rising on Pikes Peak, and it was an amazing setting. Everything below me started getting smaller and smaller. It almost felt like I was on an airplane, but I was on the road climbing vs. flying up.
When you get to 11,000 feet, even trees can't even survive. The air is thin, and the view is spectacular. The top of the mountain is where America the Beautiful was written. I love the challenge of the climb, and it was a wonderful to share the experience with my daughter and the rest of my support team.
Many people have driven up Pikes Peak in a car, and it almost seems difficult to drive up it's so steep. It's so amazing up there and to think that I can actually push up it in a wheelchair… it really is a testament to the strength and the capability of Tailwind’s amazing technology.
It sounds like you’re passionate about the Tailwind. Would you recommend it for regular day-to-day use?
Absolutely. The fact is, the Tailwind Power Assist Wheelchair opens doors and opportunities for wheelchair users that they wouldn’t have any other way. It allows them to do things that they wouldn’t normally be able to do.
The Tailwind can not only climb to 14,000 feet: it can get me out in my back yard through the thick grass, or it can get me even further through the trees of the forest where we live in Colorado. I can follow my kids where I can't go in any other situation. I can even go places in the Tailwind that I can’t go in a power wheelchair because it would slip and slide. It gives you that. You can gear down to 1, the lowest level, and be pushing lightly around through a gift shop with trinkets and not knock them over. Then you can turn it up to 9, and you can climb Pike's Peak - all in one chair!
From a medical standpoint, the Tailwind preserves the shoulder function. Somebody that thinks they need to be in a power chair could actually be in a manual chair. It doesn't take much effort at all to push it across thick carpet, up hills, on grass, etc. It also helps to brake going downhill, so you don't have to worry about going out of control. That's unique to the Tailwind and is a very important, safe component of this. It's very safe.
I think it's incredibly important for individuals who need to use some kind of mobility device to get around to know about this specific wheelchair and the technology that it has within it. For anyone with a disability or medical condition, the most important thing they can do is get and stay informed.
About Dr. House
Dr. House started skiing at the age of 5 and ventured into extreme freestyle in his late teens. When he was 20, he had an accident and broke his neck at C-7. He was on a path to dental school and oral surgery, but due to his injury, changed course and went to med school for physical medicine and rehabilitation. He wanted to learn as much as he could about his condition. Now Dr. House is the Medical Director of the Penrose-St. Francis Health Services Rehabilitation and owner of Adapta Medical, which manufactures the PerfIC Cath Urinary Catheterization System, making self-catheterization easier even with limited dexterity.