Todd Lemay of Sanford and Tempe, Arizona, finds getting to the beach to be a lot of fun with the TerrainHopper, a vehicle designed for those with mobility issues. Lemay is so taken with the vehicle, he is manufacturing and selling them in the U.S. COURTESY PHOTO/Todd Lemay

SANFORD — Todd Lemay has always been a pretty determined sort of fellow. He might not say so himself, but his actions show it, family members say.

Lemay, who spends his summers in Sanford and the rest of the year in Arizona, has used that determination to find a way to get on the beach and into the waves, even though it was something he hadn’t been able to do in prior years.

Now that he can, he wants others whose mobility is limited, like his has been, to be able to get on the beach too, or take part in other outdoor activities.

That is why Lemay is manufacturing the TerrainHopper, an electrically-powered, four -wheel drive, off-road vehicle that can maneuver into the ocean or climb a 35-degree slope.

Perhaps Lemay, 47, had always wanted to get on the beach and into the waves, but he has had osteo-genesis imperfacta, known as brittle bone disease, from birth, and so uses a wheelchair to get around. Years ago, when he was dating Letitia, the woman from the Midwest who would later become his wife, he learned she had never seen the ocean — so he took her there.

“We planned a trip to San Diego and I was extremely excited to experience this with her and once we got to the beach, I could only go as far as the end of the parking lot,” said Lemay in an email interview. “She ended up walking along the beach for the first time without me. I never forgot that opportunity I missed, and years later I started looking for an off-road chair that would allow me easy and safe access to outdoor destinations that were previously inaccessible to me.”

Lemay grew up on Sherburne Street in the Springvale village section of Sanford, one of five siblings raised by their mother, Daurice Lemay. A 1989 graduate of Sanford High School, Lemay earned a degree in accounting from Arizona State University and worked for an accounting firm for seven years before starting two IT companies and a telecommunications business.

Along the way, he met Letitia, and the two married.

They love spending time outdoors — but taking part in outside activities hasn’t been easy.

“Being in a wheelchair limits access to most outdoor places such as parks, hiking trails and beaches,” said Lemay, pointing out he was raised just 20 minutes from the beach, but was never able to actually be there, in the sand, under his own power.

Lemay began searching the internet, looking for some sort of off-road chair.

“I wanted something that did not look like a wheelchair,” said Lemay. “Something that looked cool and didn’t have the stigma associated with being a wheelchair.”

One day he found a photo of the TerrainHopper.

“It didn’t look like a wheelchair and it looked very stable,” said Lemay. “It also had handlebars so I could steer it with my arms instead of using a joystick.  It did have the joystick option as a backup just in case I was not strong enough to steer it.  I contacted the company in the (United Kingdom) that designs and sells the TerrainHopper and started gathering as much info as I could.”

It took a year for Lemay to convince the company to let him buy one and ship it here.

Three months later, the TerrainHopper arrived in Sanford, where the couple was spending the summer.

“It could not have been a better fit if they had built it around me,” Lemay said. “My first trip was to Wells Beach where I was able to finally walk along the beach and hold my wife’s hand. It was so much fun to be able to be on the beach and in the surf with my family and nieces and nephews. I have since been on many hiking trails and can now participate in outdoor activities with my friends and family.”

A year later, he made a career change.

“I decided that I wanted to do something different,” he said. “Everywhere I went with the TerrainHopper, it was a show stopper. Everyone would stop and take pictures and want to know what it was and where I got it. Everyone knows someone who is mobility-impaired in some fashion, and they were interested in finding out more about this amazing vehicle.”

Lemay said it took about a year before he was able to license the technology to manufacture, sell and distribute the vehicles in the United States. The fabricated parts, he said, are manufactured in the U.S. and each chair is assembled in his Tempe, Arizona office, which has five employees.

There are two models, one designed for those under 6 feet tall, which can be modified for small adults or children, and an extended model designed for those 6 feet or taller. The TerrainHopper is electric and each wheel has its own motor.  It is four-wheel drive with four-wheel independent suspension. Prices start at $18,000.

Lemay said TerrainHopperUSA is working with philanthropic individuals and others willing to purchase and donate chairs to organizations like the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Paralyzed Veterans of American, with the goal of having them available so users could borrow them and participate in outdoor activities with their friends and family.

Mike Lemay, one of Todd’s four siblings, said Todd has endured a lot with his illness, and is his inspiration.

“He’s my older brother, but he’s also my overall hero,” said Mike. “He is truly the spark in all of our lives. He never quits, ever. If you tell him he can’t do something, he will prove otherwise. I’m honored to be called his brother.”

For more information about the vehicle, go to: www.terrainhopperusa.com.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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