Streetsboro girl gets Realtree camouflage wheelchair

by diane Smith | reporter Published:

From now on, when Lauren Hunter rolls down the halls of Happy Day School in Brady Lake, she'll do so in style.

The Streetsboro 17-year-old, who has used a wheelchair since early childhood, recently received a chair that blends her mother's love of all things girly, and her father's love of all things camo.

The pink camouflage wheelchair, believed to be the only one of its kind, was delivered to Lauren at her school Jan. 18. It was made possible by Realtree, the world's largest manufacturer of camouflage.

Her parents say that while Lauren can't see the chair, she is definitely excited about the attention she received that day.

"She'll enjoy it big time," said dad Jeff Hunter before the chair was delivered. "Lauren will just be enjoying every minute of it. Everyone will be over the moon. She's been in that school since she was six months old. They call her their princess."

Lauren has extensive brain damage and cerebral palsy. The disorder restricts her ability to see, talk, move her arms and legs or even roll over. Because Lauren lacks the manual dexterity to use a motorized wheelchair, she has a manual chair, which her mother, Sharon, pushes for her.

The family also includes son Beau, 9. Beau's middle name is Remington, and hunting is a "big, big deal" to the family, said Jeff Hunter, who has pursued game in 18 countries on four continents.

So while Dad loves all things camo, Mom loves all things girly and pink. Sharon Hunter, who calls who calls Lauren her "Barbie Doll," makes sure her daughter's clothing and gear are as girly as possible.

But that posed a challenge when it came to her wheelchair.

Lauren gets a new wheelchair every five to six years. When Miller's, the Akron medical equipment company that measures Lauren for the custom-fit chair, came to do the measurements, the company agreed to make the frame of the wheelchair pink. But the representative said the only color available for the seat was black.

"I just don't want my little girl in black," she said. "It gets so hot in the summertime when you're running in and out of stores."

The equipment company offered to incorporate a pink material into the design of the seat if the family could locate it in a waterproof material.

After a search of local stores only turned up cotton and fleece, Sharon Hunter complained to her husband, who said he'd call her back.

And then he put in a call to Realtree, asking about buying five yards of the company's pink camouflage material.

Debra Jennings, sales manager for the Georgia-based company, decided the company could do more after hearing Jeff Hunter's enthusiasm.

"We've always been a generous company, and without hesitation we wanted to help," she said. "He's so passionate about hunting and so passionate about his daughter. You could hear it in his voice."

The company turned to its partners at Immersion Graphics, which is responsible for dipping guns, bows and other gear in camouflage. The company was in the midst of launching a new pattern for Realtree in time for product shows, and suspended that in order to dip the metal parts of the wheelchair in Realtree's trendy pink camo.

"Ladies' hunting gear has really taken off," she said.

The company asked for no payment, requesting only a photo it could put on the company's website. Miller's kept the chair a secret, not even showing it to the family before its delivery, which was scheduled at the school because all Lauren's therapists are there.

Sharon Hunter said this wheelchair won't see Lauren through to adulthood, because she's still growing, but the hope is that it will last a long time.

"This is just a big treat for her," she said, adding that while her daughter can't see the chair, she can clearly hear the delight of those around her. "When you make a fuss over her, she loves it because it's all about her."

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1139 or dsmith@recordpub.com

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