Editor’s Note: William Alvin Hendrickson, “Wheelchair Willie,” of Orange, Texas, is 51 years old. Life changed dramatically for William on January 5, 2005, in northern California. Due to a life-altering accident, overnight William went from being a bad guy to a good guy, with no recollection of his previous life. We are honored to share his story as a Cure Advocate.
Hurricane Harvey recently destroyed William’s house, his wheelchair, his van, and almost all of his material possessions. But Wheelchair Willie won’t let that stop him, and you shouldn’t either if you have been impacted by a life-changing event!
See his story below along with more ways you can help Hurricane Harvey victims.
A few weeks ago Hurricane Harvey hit where William lives in Orange, TX. City officials had assured William they wouldn’t experience any flooding. But soon William saw water on his porch, felt the house shift and told his wife they had to get out.
Next the police ordered a mandatory evacuation with 50 inches of water expected.
City officials sent out a fire truck, and the firemen loaded up William, his wife, his son, his service dog Marcus and his manual wheelchair.
“But the fire truck stalled out,” William reports. “Next, the firemen called in boats when the water was up my chest as they rescued us.”
William called ahead to the shelter where they were being taken and explained that he and his family, his dog and wheelchair were headed to the facility.
The lady on the phone told him, “Your family is welcome to come, but your dog will be put in a crate under a tarp outside of the building.”
William called a friend who owned a dog grooming and boarding facility called the Bark Park, where they went to stay instead. But they had no water and no power there.
During the resulting flood from Hurricane Harvey, William lost his house, his adapted van, his powerchair and most of his material possessions.
A friend of William’s from Dallas had a 4X4 wheelchair van and let the family stay with him. After 2 weeks, the friend arranged for a loaner wheelchair van, enabling them to sign up for help from FEMA, the American Red Cross and the VA.
“When Invacare learned that I’d lost both my power chairs in the flood, the company had one of the reps from where I lived bring me a loaner power chair and said I could use it until my new chair was built,” William reports.
Like William, thousands of people who have disabilities have been impacted by our nation’s recent influx of major Hurricanes. Many of these people have lost their houses, their cars, and their mobility equipment and/or medical supplies.
Cure Medical is actively working with the United Spinal Association of Houston, the Spina Bifida Association, as well as local dealers and disability advocates to support victims of the nation’s recent storms. We have already worked with local providers to deliver 2 trucks of medical supplies to families in need, and will continue to do so.
William is also a classic example of how wheelchair sports can change an individual’s life, give someone purpose and allow him or her to become successful, while staying healthy and building up his body.
William’s focus is no longer on himself but rather on his service to others as well as his own family. As he says, “I was a very bad man before my accident.”
Today, William is a very good man whose life is devoted to serving others.
William Hendrickson Shares His Journey Before & After SCI
“I was high on meth amphetamines, and I thought I was bigger and badder than my Harley motorcycle,” William says today. William doesn’t remember his accident, but here’s what he’s learned from others and read in the police report.
Evidently he was going into a curve on his Harley at 100 mph and hit a cement light post, head first, shattering his helmet. He also had a stroke and suffered a traumatic brain injury. William broke C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae, leaving him an incomplete quadriplegic.
“The police report said I was face-down in a muddy ditch,” William explains. “I woke up 3 days later in a hospital. I saw a black blob and a white blob coming at me, and I hit and kicked both. I learned later that the white blob was a nurse, and the black blob was a cop.”
William had to go to court for assaulting a police officer, however, the judge dismissed the charges once he learned that William was just coming out of anesthesia.
William could move his right leg and his right arm some but no other part of his body.
When asked what his life was like before his accident, William replies, “I’ll be brutally honest. I learned I was bad people. I was a drug runner.”
William was told by his friends from before the accident (also known as BA) what he was involved in. The police ran William’s finger prints to learn who he was at the hospital and found he’d been in jail. He didn’t know his name.
“I learned I’d been married in my former life, had two children and was divorced,” William reports. “I didn’t remember growing up. I was a new person, dropped into a new world without any history.”
One day William got a phone call, and a voice told him, “You’re my dad,” describing tattoos on William’s body.
William didn’t remember his 28-year-old son or his 26-year-old daughter. Later, William flew to Fallon, Nevada, and met his son, talked with his daughter in Anchorage, Alaska, and also learned he had five grandchildren.
Once released from the hospital, William had no friends and no place to stay and went to back to southern California where he knew he used to live.
“People would say, ‘Hey, Willie, where have you been so long?’ Once I explained about my accident, often they’d invite me to their houses and tell me stories about my BA life.”
William Received Help from Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VA Hospital
William did his SCI rehab in La Jolla, Calif., at the VA hospital. “At first, I was ready to flush myself down the toilet and commit suicide.
But between the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and a lady named Kelli Kaliszewski, the spinal cord injury recreation director at that VA hospital, my new life made a dramatic turnaround. Kelli signed me up to go to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Anchorage.”
To William’s knowledge, he’d never participated in any sports’ activities but that didn’t stop him from being entered in the:
- wheelchair slalom, an obstacle course;
- the motor rally, that’s similar to a poker run;
- the discus;
- the javelin; and
- the shot put.
At that first event, William brought home four gold medals and one silver medal from the event, with 2,000 athletes competing.
William’s Competitive Life after spinal cord injury
William joined the San Diego Beachcombers, the San Diego National Wheelchair Team, that travels to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
For the past 12 years, William has been a committed star athlete and has, “A bunch of gold, silver and bronze medals.”
He says, “I’m 6’4” and weigh 290 pounds. If I can be a star athlete, you can too.”
William considers himself the unofficial king of the slalom competition, an obstacle course set-up for wheelchairs that’s lined with cones.
If a participant hits a cone as he or she attempts to go over, under or through an obstacle, a second is added to the time that he’s used to run the slalom.
“I only compete against people with the same type and capacity level of injury that I am, a Class 4, and I compete in the Open Division,” William says.
William trains for the slalom at a local Walmart store, rolling up and down aisles. How fun is that?!
“People make the best obstacles because you never know when someone will pop out. The store manager and most of the people shopping there know me.”
William Shares His Love for His Family
William’s best friend, who is now his caregiver, once worked at Sea World in San Diego where William had a pass.
“One day my friend invited a young lady to go to a park with us where people sat and played music,” William mentions.
“She hung out with us, and never left. She and I have been together and married for 9 years. We have an 8-year-old son, Daniel.
Before Hurricane Harvey, my wife was a clothing manager in Orange, TX. We’d moved there to be near my wife’s family and my one brother I’d met.
I also have a sister I’ve met and another I’m meeting in October, 2017.”
William’s Life of Service Keeps Growing
William belongs to several service organizations and explains, “I’ll get out of my wheelchair and crawl up under a car to help repair it, I’ll chop wood, and I’ll do whatever I can to help people.
I’m also very active in the Fraternal Order of Eagles organization, a nationwide community group that holds sales and barbecues to do volunteer work.
Our motto is, ‘People helping people.’ I’m very busy doing just that.”
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