On a summer evening in Rochester, N.Y., Louis Lucchesi was riding his motorcycle to a softball game when he was hit by a car making a U-turn.
Athletic, active and on the edge of manhood at age 19, Lucchesi was left without use of his legs.
That was 1976. Today, the East Pierce County resident is one of 10 finalists for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s “Best Dad on Wheels” award.
Lucchesi, 55, lives in Buckley with his wife, Kathi, and 16-year old triplets Megan, Joey and Michael, who are students at Auburn Riverside High School.
Megan wrote the nomination essay for the award, and found the 200-word limit difficult. She had so much to say about the impact her father has had on her life.
“I started writing and it was hard to stop,” she said.
To hear the triplets talk, they have nothing but admiration and respect for their father.
“I know for a fact I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my dad,” Joey said, noting how his father taught him how to live life to the fullest.
Growing up with a father in a wheelchair helped shape the children’s attitudes about disabilities. He taught them about strength and perseverance.
“You don’t see the disability, you just see the person,” Megan said.
Lucchesi’s promising future in lacrosse was cut short by his injury, but he didn’t let it keep him away from sports. He drew inspiration from his many coaches over the years.
He said the accident put him at a crossroads: Would he throw in the towel or accept his paralysis and move forward with his life?
“You can carry all that baggage, or you can just get rid of it,” he said.
Though he couldn’t kick a soccer ball, he coached Megan’s peewee soccer team. He also coached his children in basketball and baseball. Today, he’s in his second year as varsity coach of the Lake Tapps Lacrosse Club.
“You could always tell we were the coaches’ kids because he made us run the most,” Megan said.
“Everybody on the team knows that he’s harder on us,” Michael added.
All three of the Lucchesi kids play lacrosse and hope to continue the sport into college. Their mom works as a team manager and sits on league boards.
But lacrosse is just one example of the bond the family shares, and of how Lucchesi has never let his disability stop him from being an active father.
In winter, when the triplets were younger, he would use a power chair to pull them on a sled. When they were toddlers, he’d roll around with them on the floor, Kathi Lucchesi said.
Even now that they’re older, he still plays catch with them in the backyard.
When Michael was about 4 years old, he was obsessed with tractors.
Whenever Lucchesi would bring out the riding lawn mower, Michael would climb in his lap and go along for the ride.
Even today, that lap offers his teenage kids a safe place.
“One of my favorite things to do is sit on his lap,” Megan said. “It’s the best thing in the world.”
Lucchesi is happy that he was nominated for the “Best Dad on Wheels” award because he thinks it will help raise awareness about spinal cord injuries.
“When I was injured, I had no idea what the word paraplegic meant,” he said.
He was one of the original subjects for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and he met his wife through a wheelchair sports clinic. After taking easily to tennis, he played on a nationwide wheelchair tennis circuit.
For Lucchesi, who works for Russell Investments, life is not about being in a wheelchair. It is about being a dedicated husband and father. And it’s about moving forward.
“A lot of people forget he’s in a wheelchair,” Kathi Lucchesi said.
“The disability doesn’t define him.”
HOW TO VOTE
Voting in the “Best Dad on Wheels” contest is open until 11:59 p.m. today. The winner will receive a $500 gift card from Tilt-A-Rack. You can vote online at christopherreeve.org.