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06/04/2013

Man wheelchairs across America. Twitter shrugs

Meh to Twitter for almost entirely ignoring the quietly amazing Ryan Chalmers, who now is in the home stretch of a 71-day journey across America in a wheelchair.

For nearly two months now, the paralympian Chalmers, who was born with spina bifida, has been rolling from triumph to triumph, "inspiring thousands" in Kansas City, pushing past his alma mater in Champaign, Ill., even taking a lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But as of this afternoon, as Chalmers puffed through the mountains of Appalachia, the 24-year-old athlete's @PushUSA Twitter account showed a meagre 357 followers -- 100,000 times smaller than the Justin Bieber nation, now at 40 million and counting.

Maybe things will pick up for Chalmers, whose Los Angeles-to-New York roll arrives Thursday afternoon in Washington DC. His goal is to reach the finish line in Central Park in New York City on June 15.

Chalmers took on the challenge to prove a point -- "that disability sports are no different than able-bodied sports. We put our hearts and souls into everything we do."

But he's also raising funds for Stay-Focused, a New York-based program for disabled teens that Chalmers credits with changing his life. The program sponsors diving lessons, which in turn provides an "unprecedented sense of freedom and independence" for teens confronting doubt and self-esteem issues.

"You have kids who come through the program who are really shy they've never left their parents' side or they don't feel comfortable," Chalmers told reporter Vincent Bonsignore at the start of his journey.

"But the first time they jump in the water you just see their joy and the water going into their masks and the big smile on their faces. It's one of those things that instantly changes people's lives."

What Twitter hasn't noticed, however, some U.S. bloggers have. Here's a thoughtful post by Ryan Hilligoss, who spoke to Chalmers about the challenges of wind, rain, heat and 22-degree inclines. And here's a glimpse of what a cross-country journey does to a wheelchair-driver's hands.

Mitch Potter is the Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Toronto Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites 

Comments

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I don't think he has few twitter followers because people don't care about what he's done. I think he has very few twitter followers because his twitter account is a poor PR/marketing twitter account, and instead of giving his own impressions and insights (I'd love to know what were his thoughts and impressions along the road), he relies more on his PR team to post how awesome is his hard work, asks people for support every single tweet. I don't feel like subscribing, even though I love this kind of challenge. Boo.

That's an incredible feat, but Rick Hanson wheeled around the world. I doubt that that's the reason for the Twitterverse to be relatively silent here. However, it seems that too many people don't want to be reminded that our bodies are relatively frail, and so they continue to ignore anything and everything to do with disabilities and those who are disabled.

Since when is everything measured by Twitter? It may be popular, but the majority of people on the planet don't use it.

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