Justin Minnaert likes gadgets, which comes in handy these days. Paralyzed in a dirt bike accident in July 2020, the Chester farmer and his wife spent their fifth wedding anniversary at Sanford Health.
"It could have been better," Minnaert commented with exaggerated understatement. Not only did he have a spinal cord injury, but he also broken ribs and punctured lungs.
Back on the farm since October, he is making use of adaptive equipment to do the work he loves. For him and his wife Kendra, it's the sensible thing to do.
"People get put in adverse situations and find a way to move on," he said.
A Life Essentials Lift enables him to get out of his pickup and into equipment. An Action Trackchair enables him to get around the yard with greater ease and even to stand to take care of some repair jobs.
He learned about both from another paralyzed farmer. Minnesota farmer Ryan Buck was injured in a snowmobile accident in 2008. Like Minnaert, Buck wanted to continue farming following his accident.
According to a 2018 article in Successful Farming, Buck began working with his in-laws and they helped him develop adaptations. Among them was using a forklift and vintage lawn chair to help Buck get in and out of the tractor.
Later, he was able to get a lift which enables him to gain access himself; he recommended this to Minneart. The lift, mounted on a pickup flatbed, was created by Life Essentials, a company that specializes in mobility products for those in the ag industry.
Using hand controls, Minneart can position the chair on the lift so he can get out his pickup and into the farm equipment needed for crop production by himself.
"It allows me to do more things independently," he said. The Action Trackchair, which is essentially an all-terrain wheelchair, also gives him greater autonomy.
"The owner's son was paralyzed," Minnaert stated, providing background on the company which developed the chair. "He wanted to find a way for his son to get back to doing the things he did before."
To enable a handicapped person to engage in outdoor activities, the company offers a variety of accessories such as a gun rack, utility box, snowplow kit, umbrella holder and fishing rod holder. However, Minnaert didn't find what he needed, so he developed what he needed -- a brace to hold a tank to the side of the chair so he can spray weeds around the grain bins and buildings.
That has been his approach to tackling the challenges he's encountered since returning from the Craig Hospital in Denver, where he spent 10 weeks in rehab. He finds ways to do what he wants to do.
When his wheelchair didn't fit under the worktable in the shop where he helps repair equipment, he and his dad reconfigured that area. When he couldn't reach the tools he needed in a tall toolbox, he got a shorter one.
"I like to stay busy," he said, explaining his determination to find solutions. "I'd rather work in the shop than sit at home."
He knows that things take longer than they did prior to his accident. He admits that he tries things that are a bit risky, but Kendra is not surprised.
"He was a daredevil before and he's a daredevil now," she said. "His personality is still the same."
One of the things which definitely hasn't changed is his desire to spend time with his wife. Prior to his accident, he and Kendra liked to run or ride bike together. While running isn't in the cards, he does have a hand cycle which lets them ride bike together again.
"We decided to keep living life and moving forward," Kendra noted.