Segway means mobility for woman suffering from MS
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Kolakanta Darling is determined to maintain her independence and her mobility despite a seven-year battle against the depredations of multiple sclerosis.
She retains a firmly upbeat demeanor, as well as a wry, sometimes sly sense of humor about her predicament and the trials and tribulations she faces in her daily life.
But she also has a strong social conscience, and will be rolling along on her Segway PT (pronounced like “egg-way,” it is called a Personal Transport device) this Saturday on the Glenwood Canyon Bike Trail, part of the Wells Fargo Walk MS and 5K Run to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Darling, 52, is a divorced mother of four who was diagnosed with MS in 2004. MS is an auto-immune disease that affects the brain and spinal column. Within a year, advancing symptoms forced her to quit her job and sign up for disability payments from Social Security.
Prior to her diagnosis, she said, she was an active runner, hiker, bicyclist and cross-country skier. She did not begin using a Segway until “a couple of years ago,” she confided.
Today, she lives in a home up Four Mile Road southwest of Glenwood Springs, where she has lived since moving here 21 years ago with her young family.
Although her leg muscles have deteriorated since her diagnosis, she continues to walk around her house and in her yard.
During an interview with the Post Independent, she would occasionally jump up to deal with a pet-related emergency out back, striding unsteadily but with determination out the back door.
But to walk her two dogs – Callie and Ishka – or to get the mail at the end of her driveway, she uses her Segway PT, which balances on two wheels thanks to internal gyroscopes and other equipment and can travel at up to 12 miles per hour.
She currently does not own a car, so a group of friends has been raising money to buy a specially equipped, $29,000 van that will accommodate her Segway and a wheelchair.
Organizer April Calabro reported that as many as 140 people showed up at the May 7 event, which raised $5,000 with expectations of another $5,000 or so to come.
“I feel truly blessed that I have friends who stepped up and did that for me,” Darling said, mentioning the Basalt Lions Club, Molly Robison, Calabro and others who put the event together.
Calabro said the effort is still only about halfway to the goal, and urged anyone interested to donate to the Kolakanta Van fund at Alpine Bank.
For now, though, Darling is on her second Segway, after buying one used and running it until it died and “some kind friends got together and bought me this one.”
She noted that the devices typically run for about 800-1,000 miles on a single set of tires and rechargeable batteries.
“Right now, I’m at 753,” she said of her current Segway. She added with some pride, “My Segway does well in the snow.”
To accommodate her need to get out the front door, her sons installed a three-stage ramp that winds from a small porch, around a tree and down to the driveway.
At her request, they did not demolish the porch.
“I don’t see myself as disabled,” she explained. “I didn’t want my house to look like the home of a disabled person.”
And it does not.
With stairs at the front door, stairs leading from the living room to the basement, and stairs leading off the back porch, it is a typical ranch-style family home, which she navigates through the use of forearm crutches.
In addition to the dogs and whichever of her kids are around, two cats roam the house, an elderly male and a youngster that, as a kitten, took a liking to the family Christmas tree.
“We had a lot of grandma ornaments,” Darling said, so her kids rigged up a sort of Christmas bundle of branches that dangle from the dining room chandelier.
“The kids are great, and they’re so helpful, but it’s an adjustment for them, too,” to deal with their mom’s illness, Darling said.
For instance, she recalled, she and the kids used to cross-country ski, hike to Hanging Lake and do other strenuous activities together.
“But we can still raft the river, go to Summer of Jazz and do all those things together,” she said.
Although she has a manual wheelchair and a power chair, she said, she is most comfortable on the Segway and uses it much more than the other conveyances.
“This is how I do Target, and City Market, and high school functions with the kids,” she said. “It allows me to go out in society.”
And, she said, it changes the way people treat her on the street.
“They treat you differently on a Segway; they treat you like, ‘Hey, that’s fun.’ In a wheelchair, they treat you like an imbecile.”
For example, she said, “People will come up to me in a wheelchair and say (speaking loudly and very slowly), ‘What do you need?'”
“I’m not deaf,” she declared with exasperation. “My legs don’t work, but I can hear fine.”
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