CURE ADVOCATE RICK HAYDEN of Murrieta, California, is president of the United Spinal Chapter of Southern California, one of 53 chapters of United Spinal. Each non-profit chapter has its own agenda for serving their local community. Below, Hayden shares his story and his strategies for personal and professional success.
Rick Hayden’s Journey with SCI Began in the 70s
On June 3, 1976, my world changed dramatically. I had a motorcycle accident in Massachusetts where I grew up. A car in front of me without brake lights slowed down unexpectedly. As I tried to go around the car, the front tire on my motorcycle hit one of Massachusetts’ expansion girders – metal strips in the bridges.
Next I hit the car in front of me, the car stopped, and I was airborne and thrown into the front of a car going the opposite direction.
Fortunately a postal worker who knew first aid was walking his route instead of driving, because when I hit the car, I severed an artery in my hand that was really pumping the blood out. The postal worker kept me from bleeding to death and stayed with me until the ambulance arrived.
I believe in fate – that everything in my life happens for a reason.
I feel my responsibility is to attempt to learn what the reason is behind everything I don’t understand. I believe there’s purpose in everyone’s life. We just have to find it.
Besides my hand injury, I had a T8 incomplete spinal cord injury after my wreck. I didn’t get out of the hospital until October 1 and then was in rehab for a total of four months.
Rick Transforms from a Gas Jockey into a Peer Mentor
At the time of my accident, I was married, working at a service station pumping gas and I had one small child and another on the way. I was working any job I could find to pay the rent and put food on the table. All prospects of college were out of the question.
I soon learned that 87% of marriages fail after one of the spouses has a spinal cord injury.
My wife and I separated and divorced. Although she took the kids, I still had a strong support group with my family and friends. I moved in with my folks for a time.
While in the hospital, I met Larry Lajoie, a member of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which did peer mentoring. Larry was a big guy with a big voice and huge hands. Larry, 4 years post injury, and I became fast friends and traveled around New England giving talks on architectural and attitudinal barriers for people with disabilities, hoping to change the way people thought about people with disabilities.
Then I was fortunate because I had an opportunity to go to college.
Rick Enters College, Paving His Way to Work in the Wheelchair Industry
I enrolled in a 2-year college and took a wide variety of courses, because I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to become. Since I enjoyed sports, I next went to Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., and majored in physical education. I worked with the college that was willing to make accommodation to help make the school more accessible for all people with disabilities.
I got my bachelor’s degree in physical education and taught there for a year. I was the defensive back field coach for the football team, the assistant basketball coach and the head tennis coach, making a grand total of $19,000 a year. I worked a summer job too at Kamp for Kids, one of the first summer camps in the country that had campers with and without disabilities.
Although I enjoyed teaching and coaching, I needed more money. I returned to college and got a degree in business and marketing at Westfield State College in Westfield, Mass.
I worked at Aetna Life and Casualty Insurance for three months.When I learned about a job opening in California with Everest & Jennings (E&J), I applied. E&J flew me out to California, interviewed me for 9 hours and gave me the job. My fiancé at that time and I decided I should move to California and take the job, and I did on July 24, 1987. I became the marketing manager for E&J’s ultralight wheelchair division.
I wanted to learn all I could about the building, marketing, sales, dealerships and management experience that I could.
I moved from marketing director into the sales department and was named the salesman of the year. Since I was in a wheelchair, I thought I’d have a much easier time selling wheelchairs to people who needed wheelchairs.
My first customer was Sue Wagner, the lead therapist at Sharp Rehab in San Diego, Cal., who told me, “If you think just because you’re in a wheelchair that you know everything about wheelchairs, you’re sadly mistaken.” I looked at Sue and said, “I realize I don’t know everything about wheelchairs, but I’m planning to learn everything I can. I’ll research to find answers to any questions and give you the answers as fast as possible.”
Then Sue smiled and said, “Well, I think you and I will get along just fine.”
The Reeve Foundation discusses manual wheelchairs with Rick Hayden
In this recording of an online discussion, Rick Hayden joins Candace Cable to share his vast knowledge of the wheelchair industry. Rick has spent the last 28 years working in the healthcare industry as VP Sales and Marketing of several mobility assist companies. He is presently working with multiple companies as a marketing consultant on the powerful and positive impact people with disabilities can lend to brand demand and promotion.
Rick’s Education Continues at the Veterans Administration
I went to work for the Veterans Administration, undergoing a training program for a year in its prosthetic and sensory aid product section – the department that orders all the equipment for veterans with disabilities.
I was willing to be mentored and learned all I could about the equipment available for people with a wide variety of disabilities.
Next I transferred to the Long Beach office, one of the largest VA hospitals in the country, where the chief of that department had gone to Puerto Rico. The assistant chief became the acting chief,and I became the acting assistant chief at Long Beach. I learned techniques of management.
But I had to get up at 3:30 am to reach my job on time. Then I didn’t get home until 6:30 pm. My drive time to and from work was several hours each day. I’d remarried, and my wife and I had our first daughter, Jenna. However, I had two other children from my previous marriage – Rick Hayden III and Richelle.
I decided that the job with the VA was not only wearing me out physically, but I had little or no time for family life.
For Several Wheelchair Companies Hayden Filled Various Roles
I got a call from a dear friend, Marty Ball, who was working for Medical Composite Technology (MCT), making carbon fiber wheelchairs. I went to work there. Its FX model was the best rolling wheelchair I’d ever used. At MCT, I learned to build,market and sell carbon fiber composite wheelchairs. I really enjoyed working with Marty, because over the years, he and I had a history of playing wheelchair sports together. But Everest bought MCT, and I soon left.
In 1995, I became a consultant and the national sales manager for Prime Engineering, working with Mary and Bruce Vogel. I decided I needed to learn the dealer side of the wheelchair business and worked there for10 years, and also worked for Home Health Supply with Sid Gubin.
In 2008, I went to work for John Vox who owned and operated Colours Wheelchair as national sales manager. When he retired, I took over the operation of the company as general manager and vice president of sales. In 2012, that company was purchased by a Japanese company. Max Mobility was launching a new unique product – SmartDrive – a small motor that attached to the back of a wheelchair. I helped Mark Richter launch the new product.
In 2015 my twins, Kyle and Ainee, were in high school, and I wanted to be around the house more. So, I went back into the consulting business for small and midsize companies. Kyle was playing varsity soccer, and I became one of the soccer coaches for his high school team. In June, the twins graduated from high school, and I knew I didn’t have to stay in my home office anymore.
About that same time, I got a call from a friend of mine, Bill Lasher, who owned a company called Lasher Sport that built custom wheelchairs,beach wheelchairs, off-road wheelchairs and hand cycles. Bill explained, “We’re expanding our company, and we need a vice president of sales and marketing. Would you be interested?” I took the position with him on September 15, 2016.
I also coordinate the work of all the chapters in the West for United Spinal.
Rick Hayden Shares the United Spinal Initiatives for the Southern California Chapter
Our chapter focuses on:
- employment equality;
- accessible public transportation;
- accessible, affordable housing; and
- peer mentoring.
We have a 13-member board of directors and a network of volunteers. Our subcommittee on employment equality works with the Department of Vocational Rehab and the Department of Labor.
We’re also trying to establish networks with some large corporations in our area that are required to have a certain number of people with disabilities working for them. Those positions have to be filled by people who are qualified to do the jobs they must perform.
If employees aren’t qualified, then we’re setting up people for failure. Instead of just providing general information for people with disabilities that they can find on a wide range of websites, our chapter has decided that we’ll target specific needs and specific problems on our website and work toward meeting those needs and solving those problems for the four counties in California that we serve.
A 2017 project that’s an offshoot of the employment equality subcommittee is a job fair for people with disabilities and two workshops that will run concurrently – one for potential employers that covers subjects like how to create a relaxed interview session with a person with a disability, and how to determine reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
The other workshop will be for potential employees with information on how to write a resume, where and who you send the resume to, and how to follow up after sending the resume. The workshop also will provide information on how to put your best foot forward in a job interview, and how to explain the reasonable accommodations you may need. Then we’ll hold a job fair after we’ve prepared both the employer and the employee to better understand how to work together. In our area,we have several large corporations like Sony and Qualcomm who are committed to helping.
Only two accessible taxi cabs are in San Diego, and one doesn’t operate on the weekends. Someone who has a disability and doesn’t want to wait at a bus stop for an accessible bus or trolley may prefer to call a cab. If you want to go places where buses and trolleys don’t run, you’ll need an accessible cab. A project we’re working on is providing more accessible cabs.
We’re also conscious of the fact that the people who sit on our board are very busy people with jobs and families. We try to be very efficient with everyone’s time involved in a project to not lose the high quality of board members and volunteers serving our chapter. We had a specific board anatomy when we first set-up the chapter – a doctor, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a retired business person, a social worker, an attorney and a parent. We wanted to include people who understood the challenges that people with disabilities faced and could come up with solutions to the problems we identified.
Today we’ve expanded the board to include other people who are passionate too about solving problems for people with disabilities.
Why Rick Hayden Chooses a Cure Catheter
When I first tried Cure Catheters, I noticed a smoother insertion right off the bat. That’s because Cure Medical has fire polished eyelets on their catheters, instead of rougher, machine-punched eyelets that are commonly used on other catheters.
That’s important to me because I just had surgery for the second time to remove strictures.
Strictures are scar tissue that builds up in your urethra after years of using catheters, and it’s not a fun process to go through surgery to deal with them.
After surgery, I had to switch to an indwelling catheter for 7 days to let the surgical area heal up.
It’s so important to get a smooth product. That’s why I choose a Cure.
“It’s also extremely important to me that Cure Medical financially supports paralysis research.” ~Cure Advocate Rick Hayden
Especially now with the new political regime, there’s going to be cutbacks fast and furious. Overall, I believe far less money will be going to SCI research. So in my opinion, any company that takes 10% right off the top and donates it back to help others through research for a cure is aces in my book!
Learn More about Rick & Get Involved with United Spinal
I’ve been rolling (in a wheelchair) for 40 years, and I’ve been working in the medical profession for 30 years. I’d love to help you too. To learn more about what we’re doing at the Southern California Chapter of the United Spinal Association, you can go to our website at www.scchapter.org. To learn more about Lasher Sports, visit www.lashersport.com.