On May 25, 1994, Larry Keller Jr. dug deep. He visualized how he was going to wind himself up as though compressing the coils of a spring back through time to ancient Greece, coiling his powerful body the way they did during the first Olympic Games. He used his mind to project the way he would uncoil and send the discus flying into the present.
The throw came during a county championship meet. It was the longest discus toss in New York State that year, 172 feet and 7.5 inches, and it remains the East Hampton High School record.
In the days and weeks and months that followed the horrific car accident on July 25, 2009, that broke his neck and left him lying paralyzed in a hospital bed, Larry Keller dug deep again. “The visualization I used with the discus, I used it in the hospital. I visualized the nerve cells repairing themselves.”
“I grew up in Montauk. I was paralyzed from the neck down and was told I may never walk again. I was lying in bed. Depression was nipping at my heels. I was asking myself how am I going to get back to where I love to be,” he said on Saturday afternoon. He was where he loves to be, on the beach at Ditch Plain in the sun and with his girlfriend, Sharyn Marks, by virtue of Herculean perseverance and an Action Trackchair, a cross between a conventional wheelchair and a small tank.
Mr. Keller said he and Ms. Marks were watching television one night last year when a public service announcement came on advertising a trade exposition starting the next day in New Jersey. The show was featuring equipment designed to give disabled persons greater mobility.
“We went and I demo-ed several chairs. This one was by far the most capable,” he said, speaking of the Action Trackchair he sat in. The chair, manufactured by the Action Manufacturing company of Minnesota, is propelled by tank treads in place of wheels.
It is powered by two 12-volt batteries, and has a control that allows the driver to tilt the chair to balance it while ascending and descending hills. The treads conquer mud and sand. The Trackchair was invented by Tim Svenson after his son Jeff was injured and disabled. Mr. Svenson wanted to create an all-terrain chair to enable the disabled to have the freedom to enjoy hunting, hiking, fishing, and other outdoor activities.
Mr. Keller said he was so impressed by the chair that he decided to act on the company’s offer to serve as the vehicle’s exclusive Long Island distributor. “I took the summer, made a business plan and went to the S.B.A. [Small Business Administration].”
Delivery of his Otpmobility company’s first sale will be made to the artist Chuck Close in about two weeks. Mr. Close, a former East Hampton resident, has been having a house constructed near the beach farther west on Long Island in Long Beach. He has another house in Alaska. The artist was paralyzed in 1988 by the collapse of a spinal artery. “He was so excited to see his house from the beach,” Mr. Keller said.
The champion track athlete has made remarkable progress. He took his first steps five weeks after the accident. He is now able to stand and walk on flat ground with the help of a cane, but requires the chair for the outdoor activities he loves. Being from Montauk, that includes fishing. Ms. Marks has a degenerative bone disease, and while she gets around well now, the all-terrain chair has personal meaning for her as well.
“Our goal is to start a foundation after the business takes off,” Mr. Keller said. He said he planned to reach out to the Wounded Warrior Project, and to one day have a storefront that will showcase a variety of chairs and other equipment that can be customized to provide greater mobility to the disabled. Mr. Keller’s company can be found at otpmobility.com. He can be reached at 702-5302.
On Saturday afternoon Mr. Keller stood beside the chair that brought him to the ocean’s edge. “When it first happened the doctors told me I may never walk again. I thought that may be, but I told them ‘Don’t ever say that to me again.’ I started looking for ways to get back. It seemed like a far-off dream.”