COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - One Columbus man is getting a little help from his friends as he takes an adventurous trip up one of America's most popular hiking trails.
O’Ree Crittenden became a quadriplegic in 2001 after he fell feet first from a dock trying to retrieve a kite for a child during a Florida trip. He spent a year in various hospitals and treatment centers for injuries to his neck and spine, including the world-renowned Shepard Center in Atlanta.Crittenden sustained the injury on Sept. 9, 2001 - just two days before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"As I was coming to I kept seeing this new funky movie I thought it was, but it wasn't it was the twin towers being blown up over and over and over as I was fading in and out," Crittenden said. "I was in a coma for 13 days so it took me a while to really understand what was going on."
But his injuries haven’t stopped the self-proclaimed avid outdoorsmen from living his life.
He’s remained fiercely independent: he’s graduated from college, lives alone, drives in a modified car, works full time and is an advocate for wheelchair-accessible transportation for others in Columbus. In addition to living his life, he's played quadriplegic rugby, been whitewater rafting and rode ATVs.
"I'm a move forward type person , if you have a problem you assess it and you move on," Crittenden said. "Life is too short to sit around and cry about it, that is not going to get you anywhere."
But he said since he’s been in a wheelchair, he’s missed a lot of outdoor activities he used to do. Thus, a new dream was born – hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The mission called O’Ree at the AT, was born around Christmas when Crittenden asked his friend and former high school classmate (avid trail hiker) Lee Griffith if he could help him traverse the splendid Appalachian Trail.
“I've known O'Ree for several years and have always wanted to help him get back in touch with nature,” Griffith said. “And now that he has actually asked, I feel more committed to making it come to fruition. Once O'Ree has finished his journey on the AT we will continue to let others use this specialized equipment so they too can get back to nature.
Griffith said he began researching how to make the idea a reality. With the idea set, Griffith and another high school classmate Chad Pepper, and friend Scott Kimbro began a campaign in early 2016 to get a specialized hiking chair for Crittenden.
Kimbro and Crittenden have been friends for several years; Kimbro saved Crittenden after his fall in 2001 and says it's amazing to see him live in this way.
And Crittenden said that it means so much to have the support of his friends.
"Oh man it means the world to me that these guys would come out here and help an old quad me trek through the woods," Crittenden said. " You don't know what it means to me, it means so much."
The chair, which costs close to $10,000 - was purchased in May from a nonprofit organization in Canada, thanks to a large donation made to the campaign.
The TrailHiker chair allows Pepper and Griffith, who is acting as the Sherpa, to carry Crittenden as they hike. They began their hike on Aug. 27.
Once they have used the chair, Griffith said they will donate the chair for someone else to use.
“Once we accomplish the goal of a Georgia AT section hike this summer with O'Ree, we plan to offer the use of the chair to other persons to experience local and backcountry adventures,” Griffith said.
The group’s itinerary spans 80 miles of the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail, which is 2,220 miles from Georgia to Maine – you can check it out here.