An 8-year-old from Mondovi’s life was changed Monday morning after a typical park outing turned into a surprise.
Ryan Allemann, who uses a wheelchair, was at the park with his parents, Matt Allemann and Mackenzie Harsh-Allemann. Ryan was for the first time able to play in the sandbox when Rutting Ridge Foundation President Jarrad Fluekiger and Vice President Mike Bahr presented the little boy with his very own Action Trackchair — an all-terrain wheelchair.
“When you see the tears in the parents’ eyes, that really hits home a lot,” Bahr said. “You can’t get a better thank-you than that.”
Well, members from the Scheels Hometown Heroes program and television series “American Heroes Outdoors” wanted to try. Ryan wasn’t the only one recognized Monday. Bahr and Fluekiger then traveled to Scheels in Eau Claire for a heroes’ welcome of their own.
Employees of Scheels lined the entryway waving American flags below a large American flag hanging from the ceiling, clapping when the duo walked through the doors.
Bahr, a former Wauwatosa firefighter for 25 years and co-founder with Fluekiger of the Rutting Ridge Foundation, was recognized as a Scheels Hometown Hero. The program is a partnership with the television series “American Heroes Outdoors” to shine a spotlight on ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things throughout the Midwest, Scott St. Sauver, host of “American Heroes Outdoors,” said.
Each year, 12 recipients are chosen for the award and later are featured in an episode of the show, which airs monthly on Fox Sports North, Fox Sports Wisconsin and Midco Sports Network. St. Sauver said they choose recipients who are service members such as firefighters, law enforcement and EMTs, among others.
As a dedicated firefighter, Bahr’s nomination caught their eye. But as they dug into the story, St. Sauver said, they learned much more.
“What I found out was Mike is this amazing person that took it upon himself and a friend to start a foundation to give wheelchairs to kids so they can be in the outdoors, which is what we’re all about,” he said.
Bahr and Fluekiger started the Alma-based Rutting Ridge Foundation in 2015 when they saw a boy who had lost both his legs in an accident on social media, Bahr said. The goal was to help him get outdoors, and they started looking into Action Trackchairs. They put together a fundraiser to raise money for the chair, and he said they were blown away with the donations they received.
“It went so well the first time we decided to turn it into an entire foundation, and we’ve been doing it since,” Bahr said.
Ryan’s chair is the fourth they have donated; two others went to families in Neillsville, and one to a family in Oklahoma.
Reflecting on their day, Fluekiger said he is proud of Bahr for being honored in the Hometown Heroes program. But for the two of them, the satisfaction comes from connecting with the family members and changing a child’s life.
“When you see their smiles, our smiles get a little bigger,” Fluekiger said. “Usually families stay in touch, get to know us pretty well. They’ll send pictures of the kids sitting on a beach with their Action Trackchair, chasing seagulls. How many kids in a wheelchair can go down a beach and chase seagulls?”
For one, it was seagulls. For Ryan, it was as simple as playing in the sand.
St. Sauver, who accompanied the group Monday in Mondovi, said he saw Ryan’s life change in those moments.
“That little boy spun around in the sandbox and spun that chair around,” St. Sauver said. “It wasn’t about the chair even; it was about being a kid. He’s never been able to spin around and enjoy a playground like many of us got to do.”
The “American Heroes Outdoors” episode featuring Bahr, Rutting Ridge Foundation and the Allemann family will air in July.
For more information about the organization, visit ruttingridgefoundation.org.
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