Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Limited movement doesn’t limit Tenino man’s world

Jenna Schoenbachler was seven months pregnant the night her oldest daughter ran downstairs and said Daddy had fallen off a ladder and couldn’t get up.

“I waddled upstairs, and his eyes were open but he couldn’t speak,” Jenna said. “He could not squeeze my hand. At one point his eyes closed, and I didn’t know if I’d lost him. I began doing compressions on his chest ...”

That was nearly three years ago,

Greg Schoenbachler’s fall, from the second step of a 4-foot stepladder, broke his neck and paralyzed him from the shoulders down. He was 36, living on the family’s Tenino ranch. He had created, then sold his own recycling business.

“I remember thinking, ‘We can only be so lucky,’ ” Jenna said. “Greg had been a successful rancher, then a businessman. We had two wonderful daughters and a third baby on the way ...”

It was also the second time Greg had broken his neck. The first was in 2003, when a half-ton bale of hay landed on him and there were seven compression breaks in his back and neck.

He wore a body cast for three months, then went back to work.

“They were active people, and active people get hurt,” friend Ed Danzer said. “They rode dirt bikes, water and snow-skied. Not everyone has good luck.”

In the years that followed the fall in his house, Greg’s resilience was remarkable. Today, he drives, uses a walker to get around in his house and has limited use of his legs and arms.

Last month, he added a new activity — golf.

“It started as a joke,” Greg said. “The company I work for — Waste Connections — was having a golf tournament, so I entered it. I thought it would be fun to show up and somehow play.”

Greg called Danzer, who runs 6K Products, a machine and welding shop. Greg had an idea, talked it out and Danzer tinkered with junk parts and put it together.

When the golf tournament began, there was Greg in his wheelchair, holding the device.

“The name is still in development,” as Greg put it.

Cannon comes to mind.

Powered by a nitrogen tank, their creation could be loaded with a golf ball and then, using an adjustable gauge and trigger, launch that ball anywhere from 1 to 300 yards.

It fit in Greg’s lap, could be aimed and fired using only his left hand.

“The ball leaves the barrel at 170 feet per second,” Danzer said. “When I was testing it, I fired it at some old quarter-inch plywood. The balls went right through.”

For the first time since his fall, Greg was out on a golf course with friends, including his boss, John Rodgers.

“Greg showed up and we were all kind of scratching our heads,” Rodgers recalled. “He said he had this ‘gadget,’ and was ready to play.

“By the end of the day, everyone wanted to see it work.”

That reinforced an idea Greg and Danzer had considered from the beginning. If the thing worked, and could be further developed, why couldn’t it be built for anyone with limited mobility?

“It might open a door for people who love golf but can’t participate,” Greg said. “It won’t be cheap, but reasonable for someone who doesn’t have options. It would be like a good set of clubs.”

Danzer doesn’t play golf, and said that if he were invited today to play using clubs, he’d decline.

“I’m 60 and can’t swing a club well enough to enjoy the game,” Danzer said. “But if Greg invited me to golf with him using one of these pneumatic golf ball drivers? I’d be out there in a heartbeat.”

Greg’s physical rehabilitation has improved “a millimeter at a time,” he said. The golfing device won’t change his life, but might add a little more pleasure to it.

And it’s led him to consider creating other objects for limited-movement consumers.

“With Greg’s mind, the wheels are always turning,” Jenna said. “There are always a million irons in his fire.”

First, always, is family.

“I had to breathe with a ventilator for six weeks, was in the hospital for 9½ weeks,” Greg said. “Then Jenna delivered our son, Casen, to go with our daughters Karina and Jessica.

“My first goal was to walk again in my home. I achieved that. The trajectory of improvement slows down, but I keep working for more.”

Like most of their friends, Jenna admits she’s a bit in awe of her husband’s drive.

“He doesn’t have down days,” she said. “If anything, he picks me up when I need a little reassurance.

“There are times I do ask, ‘How do you do that?’ I mean, he even grills now! Greg never gives up.”