Determined wife, gentle horse get Dennis Weitman rolling again | News
A tragic accident can not only change the person who suffers through it but it can also affect family and loved ones.
One Washington man discovered this first hand when he fell through a roof and broke his back nearly 6 years ago. His road to recovery was slow but through it all he found life doesn't have to stop it just has to change.
Riding in a buggy behind a horse has a limited to view to say the least. Anybody who's been there will tell you it's all hindquarters and tail. Granted, it's a view only a horse owner could enjoy. But that's one of Dennis Weitman's favorite spots.
It's not where he normally would sit. He used to ride in a full wagon pulled by draft horses. However, the trail that lead him to a small buggy with a very different view, didn't start in a coral. It started on a neighbor's roof.
"I was a long haul trucker from Spokane to LA before," said Dennis.
While helping his friend put a roof on his house Dennis mis-stepped and fell face first.
"Lit on this shoulder and broke my back and broke my nose and that was the end of it," he said.
That fall left Dennis paralyzed from the waste down.
"The first worry I had was how do I support my family?" Dennis said.
The corner stone of the Weitman family had just cracked. But would it break?
"Laying on my dad just bawling. I was crying for hours I think. So I'm like, 'No, it can't be my dad he's got to go out on the truck next weekend. He's got stuff he's got to do,'" said Dennis' daughter Jessicca.
It was that 'stuff' he might never do again.
"I had no idea which way he could go whether he would have a positive attitude or just shut down and not want to deal with life," Dennis' wife Michelle said.
While Dennis recovered in the hospital, Michelle broke out the heavy equipment. She started ripping up the house to make it wheel chair accessible.
"For me it was about making everything easy for him so he had no reason to feel overwhelmed or that he couldn't do stuff," she said.
The house had always been a fixer-upper but now it needed a true makeover. Friends, family and the KXLY 4 Extreme Team answered the call. But there was something else Michelle wanted Dennis to do, get back on the horse, so to speak.
"I Googled some stuff, kinda got some ideas what others had done but didn't like any of them. I wanted it to look as close to a real cart as possible," she said.
Obviously Dennis couldn't ride his horse Keno anymore but Keno could more than pull him. The two just needed a custom cart.
"I wanted him to be just as able of, driving that cart as anybody," said Michelle.
It was four years after the accident that Michelle started making the cart, most of the work she did by hand. It was under the tree by that Christmas.
"To pull it off without him having any clue what I was up to. It was fun," Michelle said.
Last year the Dennis and Keno entered their first competition.
"Everybody is kinda looking at the cart going, 'Well that's kinda strange.' Then Michelle pops the back down and up we go in it and they go, 'Oh wow, check that out!' So, it's fun," Dennis said.
An old seat belt pulled from a Pontiac keeps the chair secure in the cart. The cart has two wheels and looks like a rickshaw except this in this case it isn't covered and it's pulled by a horse. The back of the cart folds down and forms a slated ramp.
And while it may look easy to drive a horse around a track, it takes a fine hand and cool nerves to get around smoothly.
"You gotta earn a horse's trust and that's the whole point. And once you do that you're buds and it's fun," said Dennis.
Fun, just like before the accident.
"Like in the beginning it was kinda nervous but I was crying because I was so happy he could be back out there," Jessica said.
Dennis does pretty much everything he used to do before the accident, just a little different.
"Don't ever give up. That's the key. Once you give up you're done," he said.
The Weitman family will tell you a few things they've known all along. A family isn't built on only one stone.
"That happens in situations like that where the spouse can't deal with it and they take off but she's a rock," said Dennis as he looked over at his wife.
Don't be afraid to drop plan A.
"Go for plan B if you have to because you're not going to get everything in life you want. You might get more, it might be a different path," said Michelle.
Attitudes don't change when you're sitting down.
"He's a very feisty old man in a wheel chair. He runs my feet over," said Jessicca.
Animals are often times more than just pets.
"The horses are part of our family. That's always been," said Dennis.
And watching a horse's hindquarters trot around a track is work.
"Last year he won his class and I was crying," said Jessicca.
Because it's better than watching from the sidelines.
"You just keep going. You just don't stop. Move it forward," said Dennis.