All-terrain wheelchairs give people 'chance to play' in Georgia parks

It’s been more than a decade since many of us first met Aimee Copeland, the Snellville-native who contracted a flesh-eating bacteria in 2012 and eventually underwent a quadruple amputation.

And if there’s anything we learned about Copeland as we watched her recovery, it’s that obstacles never stood a chance against her.

"I’ve gotten married, I’ve moved to Asheville, North Carolina, I’ve opened a holistic retreat center, and — of course — launched All-Terrain Georgia, which has just taken off," says Copeland.

All-Terrain Georgia is Copeland’s new effort to create a fleet of powerful all-terrain wheelchairs and make them available for free at Georgia State Parks and other natural resources. 

It’s an initiative of her Aimee Copeland Foundation, in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources.

"There was a time in my life where every day I was trail-running, kayaking, doing something," says Copeland. "I could point in any direction and start going and just keep going. And then I landed in a wheelchair and I can’t just do that. There’s curb cuts, there’s roots, there’s rocks."

But none of those things are a match for the heavy-duty Action Trackchairs, which effortlessly move over branches, rocks, sand, and even through shallow water. The chairs come equipped with five speeds and can handle a 20-degree incline.

"The first time I got in one of the chairs — I’m a double amputee — it was like I was running again," says the foundation’s Melanie Dunn. "This program allows people a chance to play. It gives them a chance to explore God’s beauty and the Universe at its absolutely best."

As of now, there are all-terrain wheelchairs at 10 state parks, including Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge. Copeland says the goal is to eventually purchase a van to be able to transport all-terrain wheelchairs to any park in the state.

"I think this is a great opportunity for our parks to expand the audiences that we can reach, and also introduce the outdoors and a love of the outdoors to more Georgians," says Panola Mountain State Park manager Lesley Mobley.

For Copeland, All-Terrain Georgia is a way to help people overcome bumps on the road — both the literal ones, and the obstacles that can’t be seen. 

"People are in tears," says Copeland. "We had one person who lived near a local state park whose wife and child go on hikes every day at this park. He’s never been able to go with them. Until now."

For more information on All-Terrain Georgia — including participating locations and instructions on making a reservation to use one — click here.