The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 5, 2014

Wheelchair, scooter users struggle this winter

Wheelchair, scooter users struggle to get through

MANKATO — Motorists once again faced snowy slush and watched for icy patches Wednesday as they drove down South Second Street after another snowfall. Around 1 p.m., some drivers began to lose their cool when they had to put up with an additional inconvenience: some guy in a wheelchair putzing along on the edge of a right lane.

"I hope they can be patient," said Sam Stanke of Mankato.

For those who can't, he suggested, "They should try walking a mile in my shoes."

If motorists are tired of dealing with a winter, imagine what wheelchair and mobility scooter uses have contended with during the last three months. Numerous sidewalks have remained clogged with snow and ice or blocked at access points.

Stanke, 34, has dealt with the challenges of cerebral palsy — which affects both legs and his left arm — throughout his life. In 1999, soon after his graduation from Mankato West High School, he began using a motorized wheelchair. He travels from Durham Apartments to his part-time job at Verizon Wireless Center several times a month.

His chair's top speed is 8 mph on a dry street. Stanke's been moving at about 5 mph this winter.

To avoid traffic and tons of snow on Wednesday, Stanke took a longer route through Mankato Place mall. There were points along Stanke's path, though, when he needed to enter a busy street because of snow-caked sidewalks and piled-up mounds blocking his way.

When Stanke tried to use an alley near Second Street on his way home, the wheelchair got hung up for the second time this winter.

"I was lucky, a lady stopped and helped me get unstuck."

Stanke carries a cellphone and he'll flag down someone to ask for assistance. On one particularly cold day, he had to call 911 for help to get the wheelchair moving.

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