Forgive Robert Larsen’s tardiness at last week’s Gate City Grays games. If anyone else endured such a laborious trek to Halliwell Park, they too would surely miss a few innings.
Larsen called Grays’ co-owner Terry Fredrickson last Friday morning to let him know he planned on attending his third Gate City game of the season that night. “OK, sweet,” Fredrickson told him, making sure there was space for Larsen down the third-base line. The first few innings passed with Larsen’s spot still vacant. Then Fredrickson looked through the chain-link fence and saw Larsen cruising down the road in his power wheelchair, no car in sight.
He couldn’t have, Fredrickson thought.
“I rode all the way here,” Larsen told him.
Larsen retells the story with a beaming smile and a cackling laugh, in awe that others thought his journey was as wild as he did. But that’s Larsen – when there’s a defined path, he veers on his own trail. He’s been doing that ever since was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at birth.
Expected to be non-verbal and confined to a chair for all of his life, Larsen, 41, has jumped out of the stratosphere of expectations. Though he’s back in the chair now, he’s walked on crutches before and, as for that whole non-verbal thing, anyone who’s come in contact with him knows that certainly didn’t come to fruition.
Larsen’s positivity is a bit confounding. He, more than anyone, could yell complaints off the rooftop, yet he remains upbeat. Even with Cerebral Palsy. Even after getting testicular cancer at age 23 and facing a routine of chemo and radiation and surgery that shrank him to 95 pounds and made him feel he was “dead all over.” Larsen chooses to be a ball of wit, always cracking jokes and keeping conversations light.
“It’s really, really hard to have a bad day when he’s around. It’s next to impossible,” said Fredrickson, who said he and Larsen plan on running a Halloween 5K dressed as Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan. “He’ll call you on it, too. He’ll say, ‘Hey, what’s your deal? Look, if I can be happy, so can you.’”
Fredrickson met Larsen about five years ago when the latter came to work at New Day Products and Resources – a local nonprofit that provides vocational training, employment placement, developmental therapy and adult daycare for adults with developmental disabilities. Fredrickson is the Executive Director. With the help of his job coach, Larsen works as a receptionist in the morning, then takes a post working at one of New Day’s stores in the afternoon, bringing smiles and quips all day long.
On most nights, a number of New Day employees come to support the local semi-pro baseball teams in shirts and hats they helped make. None, though, have ever rolled 1.6 miles through the streets of Chubbuck to get into Halliwell’s gates.
“I just wanted to feel the wind between my legs, brother,” Larsen said with a laugh. “People were sitting there like, ‘You’re nuts.’ I was driving up and down (over) these potholes and negotiating curbs.”
You may be thinking, did he not have a car?
No, Larsen had a ride if he wanted one. His caregiver for that night, Cassandra Robertson of Home Reach Supported Living Agency, had a car she could have taken Larsen to the Grays game in, but he wanted to get there on his own.
“I decided to do the weird thing. I decided to be a little braver,” Larsen said. “She thought I was crazier than a box of rocks. She didn’t think I was literally sane when I was saying that. “I was like, ‘I want to take my chair. You take your car.’”
Robertson decided to join Larsen on his voyage across town, leaving Larsen’s townhouse near the Home Depot in Chubbuck at around 7:10 p.m. and arriving at Halliwell exactly an hour later. That’s a turtle’s pace for Larsen, whose Permobil power wheelchair can reach up to 15 mph and managed to run over a half-dozen squirrels en route to the Grays game.
“I could have even gone quicker if I didn’t have cargo behind me,” Larsen said, looking right at Robertson. “At one time she told me she had to stop and was like, ‘My calves are burning. My calves are burning.’
“There was one point I had to yell, ‘Are you OK back there?’”
Robertson woke up with blisters on her feet, the painful result of walking three miles in the wrong shoes while chasing Usain Bolt in a wheelchair. So when Larsen wanted to attend the Grays’ doubleheader the next night, she hopped in her car, flicked on the hazards and rode as close to the curb as she could while Larsen rolled along beside her.
Flying down the sidewalk, Larsen made it to Halliwell in 20 minutes that night. Since then, he’s been stationed on the third-base line for every Grays game.
“We kind of have that rule at New Day: Don’t dis my ability,” Fredrickson said. “So if he thinks that’s his ability to go across town, I just said call me the minute you get to your front door.”