CURE NATION: Mary Carol Peterson is a recognized mobility and home accessibility expert from her days as a clinician and her role as an educator training other clinicians how to fit sport specific wheelchairs and hand cycles for individuals with all types of disabilities from the beginner to the experience athlete. You may have met her at the Abilities Expos, the National Veteran’s Wheelchair Games, US Open, NWBA Nationals or Jr. Nationals back in the day!
Mary Carol Peterson has dedicated her career to serving the mobility community – and has done so in various capacities for more than 30 years. She became an Occupational Therapist (OT) and had a impactful experience at Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains, New York, where she worked among a staff of over 30 OT’s.
It was there that she was first started working with patients with spinal cord injuries – and there she found her passion. Burke also had a great adaptive sports program, which was rare in the early 1980’s.
While working at Burke, Mary Carol was introduced to her future husband, Chris Peterson, who worked at the time for a durable medical supply vendor. Together, they became experts at helping patients find the right equipment.
A LEGACY OF MOBILITY INNOVATION BEGAN AS PETERSON CREATED A COMPANY DEDICATED TO DESIGNING AND MANUFACTURING SPORT SPECIFIC WHEELCHAIRS.
Eventually, Chris and Mary Carol moved to Florida to embark on a new journey. In 1986, Chris, along with his parter and world-famous adaptive athlete George Murray, launched Top End Wheelchairs, with the purpose of designing and manufacturing the most innovative and high-performing sports wheelchairs and cycles.
Mary Carol recalls the company’s success, as well as her husband’s commitment to his customers and building the very best products.
“Chris designed and built things that people really wanted to have – and that they would find the funding to get because they wanted to be the best they could be,” Mary Carol says.
During the first six years that Top End was quickly growing, Mary Carol had been working as the director of several different therapy departments in the Tampa area. She loved her work, motivating patients and exposing them to life-changing opportunities, like adaptive sports. She says, “I would tell my patients when I worked as a therapist, ‘There’s life after rehab. You gotta get out of bed. There’s a whole world out there.’”
Many of her patients were surprised to find out that Mary Carol had experienced a traumatic injury in her own past. “I never thought it would happen to me either, but life can change in the blink of an eye. I was riding my bike and got hit by a car and suffered a broken back at L-2 along with other injuries,” she explains.
“I got discharged from the hospital with my ‘wonder woman brace’, my walker, cane and shower chair. Thankfully, with good therapy and a lot of hard work, I was able to have a full recovery. So, I do kind of understand what it takes to come back from a serious injury.”
Fun Fact: George Murray, Chris’s partner at Top End, was the first wheelchair athlete to be featured on a Wheaties box!
In 1992, Mary Carol joined the Top End Wheelchairs team, but continued working as a contract OT on the side. She oversaw marketing and sales for the company, as well as serving as the in-house adaptive sports photographer (Mary Carol has a knack for action photography and has captured many adaptive sporting events over the years including several Paralympics!).
“I had a really easy job in selling because my husband Chris was always coming out with something new and he knew what people wanted. People would try to order new products before we had the order forms done. It was nearly impossible to keep marketing up-to-date with all the innovation. He was a true believer that the customer was always right and once he left in 2014, things were never the same,” Mary Carol says.
Today, mary carol peterson Continues to Innovate with home accessibility For People Who Roll
Mary Carol continued to support the company in marketing and sales until she departed the organization in 2016. Although she had spent much of her career serving patients and customers in wheelchairs, there was still more she wanted to accomplish.
Mary Carol’s first order of business was to get involved with adaptive snow skiing as an instructor! She traveled to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and spent 8 weeks working with their STARS Program to learn the ins and outs of adaptive skiing and absolutely loved it.
Upon returning home, Mary Carol took on her next venture, becoming certified as an Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), which is a three-part certification process. The sections cover each of the three client groups that specialists serve:
- seniors that are trying to stay in their home as long as possible,
- people with progressive conditions that will evolve over time (such as MS), and
- ‘catastrophic’ clients with acute conditions that require quick modifications to access their home (such as SCI).
Today, Mary Carol offers accessible design consulting for people living in the Tampa Bay/Orlando area.
Her decades of professional experience, coupled with her knowledge of wheelchairs and assistive technology puts Mary Carol in a great position to help people be the most comfortable, capable and safe in their homes for as long as possible.
She also teaches organizations and groups about new design trends and the benefits of barrier-free, or universally accessible, environments.
Learn more about Accessible Design Solutions by visiting Mary Carol’s website or connecting on Facebook.
If you’re not in her area of service, but are planning to build an accessible home or do some major modifications, Mary Carol recommends that you find a local CAPS to help you navigate the process, plan for the future and be your advocate with builders and case workers. They’re experts in this area and trained to know things that most people would never think of, such as planning for an elevator that could be installed years down the road.
While Mary Carol tackles home accessibility, her husband Chris is continuing to pursue his passion for racing wheelchairs and cycles with his new company, Carbon Bike-USA. He’s building carbon fiber hand cycles and super custom racing wheelchairs for athletes, many of them who competed in the Rio Paralympics and in other world class competitions with great success.
Mary Carol shares with pride, “Chris continues his passion for wheelchair racing, and is always improving the products and even using them himself. He competes in the able-bodied category and is still out there, attending races, talking to athletes, listening to what they need. He’s doing really well because he’s always innovating and listen to customers, which is the key to success for any business.”
Chris and Mary Carol have seen a lot change over the years in the mobility industry as there have been so many improvements and increased opportunities for people with disabilities.
Mary Carol attributes much of that social shift to past wheelchair athletes who paved the way.
“Sometimes, I don’t think people realize how easily accessible the resources and technology are today, with the Internet and all. The people who were really involved with wheelchair sports really pushed things and made a lot of these things possible. They brought the attention first. They changed perceptions of people with disabilities,” she explains.
While today’s world of accessibility continues to change, one thing is for sure. There’s no doubt that Mary Carol and Chris Peterson will keep innovating and educating to make this world a more accessible place for the communities and families they serve.
MARY Carol Shares Her Thoughts on the Cure Commitment
When asked about the social importance of the Cure Commitment, Mary Carol said, “I think it is awesome that there is a mission dedicated to SCI research, like that of the Cure Commitment. I’m glad that Cure Medical dedicates monies for research with the goal of improving the lives of those individuals that have sustained a spinal cord injury.”
Founded by a quadriplegic, Cure Medical is the only catheter manufacturer in the world that donates the first 10% of its net income to support research programs in pursuit of a cure for urinary retention, paralysis, spinal cord injury and central nervous system disorders.
Learn more about the Cure Commitment here. Thank you, Mary Carol, for being part of the Cure Nation!
Cure Medical founder Bob Yant was paralyzed in a diving accident. He has dedicated his life to serving others who have paralysis and urinary retention.
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