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June 17. 2013 7:06PM

Raymond man's hope for working van realized


Bruce Gatchell shows off the gold medals he won in wheelchair races at the Special Olympics New Hampshire Summer Games earlier this month as he prepares to board his new wheelchair van for the first time on Monday. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

RAYMOND — Bruce Gatchell has two words for the generous donors who helped him get a new set of wheels.

"Thank you!" he said with excitement Monday morning as he prepared to board his new wheelchair van for the first time.

Nearly $14,000 was raised through donations and a hair cut-a-thon to purchase a used hunter green metallic 2003 Dodge van with 66,000 miles.

"It's a huge relief and we couldn't have done it without everybody's help. I have half of my thank you cards out and I still have a bagful," said Lisa Duford, Gatchell's sister who helps care for him at her home in Raymond where he also lives.

Gatchell, 34, has cerebral palsy and became house-bound last August when the exhaust system failed in his old wheelchair van — a 1996 Dodge wheelchair van purchased by his mother before she died in 2006; his father has also passed away, leaving his sister to care for him.

A new van was a necessity for Gatchell, who has always been active and wanted to continue swimming, training for wheelchair races in New Hampshire's Special Olympics, volunteering at his church, and traveling to other activities outside of his house.

After hearing about his transportation troubles last fall, the parents of Exeter Paralympic gold medalist Victoria Arlen gave Gatchell the van they once used for their daughter.

The Arlens no longer needed their 2001 Chrysler Town and Country nicknamed "Bella" for transporting Victoria because the 18-year-old was able to transfer into a car.

Arlen suffers from a condition that has left her paralyzed from the waist down, but her condition didn't stop her from taking home a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

Thanks to the use of Arlen's van over the past several months, Gatchell was able to continue his training for Special Olympics on his Exeter team and earlier this month won gold medals in the 10-meter, 25-meter, and 100-meter wheelchair races during the Summer Games held at the University of New Hampshire.

The Arlens have said they would give their wheelchair van to someone else in need once Gatchell bought a new van.

Duford said the new van cost $10,000 with another $1,000 spent on other work needed before it could be used. The remaining $3,000 in donations has been set aside to help with future maintenance costs, she said.

The new van's arrival was also exciting for Josh Jones, who works for One Sky Community Services in Portsmouth and helps care for Gatchell during the day.

Jones, who often drives Gatchell to activities, also thanked the many who donated to the cause.

"Those people are just great human beings," he said.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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