Episode 23 Transcript

Published: Thursday November 30, 2023

Mike Box: Founder of Box Wheelchairs

Customizing Mobility with Heart: Mike Box


Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.

Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.

Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia, I’m Alycia Anderson, and we are so happy to have you back. We have Mike Box in the house today. He is the mind behind the magic of Box Wheelchairs. He’s an innovator of custom lightweight wheelchair designs. His wheelchairs have met and seen: land, sea, sand, and many sports courts.

Welcome Mike.

Mike Box: Thank you very much.

Alycia Anderson: Mike, you and I have known each other… Let’s look back in the history just for a little bit before we get to Guinness World Records and all the cool chairs that you’re building.

Mike Box: I remember going to Villa Park High School for a young lady that had a flat tire.

Alycia Anderson: We met back when I was probably around 17. I was at camp and I won camper of the year and my gift was winning the Colours ‘n Motion wheelchair. That was built by you, and that was the very first wheelchair that your hands had ever built and crafted for me. And what is so amazing about the work that you do is it’s custom, every single time to fit the needs of the individual. And I think that that is so important. And you were a gift to me at that young girl age, and I’m so grateful for it.

Mike Box: I don’t like the word custom. I like the “personal need” of a chair that’s made for the individual instead of the chair being made and then you try to fit into that chair.

There’s a lot of physical challenges that need to be met in our life, I enjoy what I do and I enjoy listening to what people need.

Alycia Anderson: You were always the one that would allow me, even when I was young and insecure, especially with my body, right? Like I don’t think I have a typical disabled body.

You know, my legs are smaller. There’s things that make me uncomfortable. And you always allowed for me to be me and to be beautiful in my chair.

And every time you built me a chair, which there have been many now. Each one is its own little personal expression of who I was in that moment as a little girl grown into a woman. All of that.

Mike Box: Each body is beautiful in its own manner, and it takes somebody thinking outside of the box, no pun intended, in order to fill the needs that are being left out from other manufacturers. And when I say that, I like looking at, there are no bad chair manufacturers out there.

I just like to say there’s people that need to learn.

Alycia Anderson: More like do you think that… that’s a big differentiator for you with making chairs that are very unique for the individual?

Mike Box: Yes, yes, yes. Each chair is put together up here, where there’s a big space.

It’s like your chairs from the tennis chairs to the everyday chairs.

There’s special needs and the time needs to be taken for that because in order for you to show your beauty off, you need to feel correct in that chair.

Alycia Anderson: Well, and I think that’s a differentiator of you. You do lead with intention and heart and when you’re building and I can speak to my experience.

When you’re… each time you’ve built my new chairs for me it’s been a personal conversation about how do you want to feel, how do you want it to be, how has your body changed, what do we need to do.

Too, even this last year that you built, you know, I’m on stages now and I’m like, bring it in skinny, bring it up tall, make it nude. So it’s like heels. And that self-expression as a disabled person. It gives you confidence to navigate your life.

And the most powerful thing you do is you’re doing that for children, too.

Mike Box: Amen. You keep using that word. Disabled. I’m the disabled one not you.

You’re the one that is going through those obstacles. I’m the one going around them.

And for the kids out there, that’s my dream because kids are forgotten today and especially with what’s going on…

Let’s load it up. Let’s do this. Let’s do that.

People are thinking about how am I going to make more money on the sale? It’s not that!

It’s if people thought about it a little bit more. If you bring a smile to somebody, somebody’s gonna see that smile and more smiles are gonna come your way.

I don’t know how I got this gift. How the good Lord gave it to me, but helping others… people helping people is what we need to work on in today’s society.

Alycia Anderson: Let’s look in the rearview mirror for a minute. How did this path start?

Mike Box: We’re gonna go back about 35 years ago, when I was working for a manufacturer that built power systems for warships. My brother at the time got into a really horrendous accident. And it left him paralyzed from T3-T4, and he needed some special things.

He just started playing tennis. He just started playing basketball. And that’s basically when I got introduced to the chair.

And just by God creating this disability… this… in this accident for my brother John that put me into this industry of helping others in the way I’m supposed to be.

And this next year will be 33 years since we started Colours Wheelchairs as you mentioned. And then, lo and behold, I was actually able enough to go off onto my own about 13-14 years ago and be able to help more people.

There’s not one sport that I haven’t helped people.

Alycia Anderson: Let’s talk about some of the diversity in your chairs. You’re making daily chairs, beachcomber chairs, WCMX!

Can we talk about what that chair is a little bit… because I think our listeners are going to be very interested to hear that story?

Mike Box: There was a guy by name of Lance Megan that built our chairs in Las Vegas, and he called us up…, called John up… and says, hey, I got this kid that keeps breaking chairs and Kayleen and her husband brought this nine year old back to my place, and he said, I do skate parks with my brother.

And that was the start of WCMX, that chair. Aaron and I, we used to work many nights on making a chair better, making a chair that’s worthwhile.

Well, I got to have another family member in my life. I got to take him to kids camps and I can’t tell you how much trouble we got into. I’d tell him, “go jump off that park bench.” And what would happen is he would actually get in trouble with it. Yeah, that was me, but Aaron is a blessing.

He pulled off a double backflip with a 360 twist in it! That was on a 40-foot wide gap, 60-feet up in the air! He’s flying. And for you guys that are going ah… bull crap… Google it!

We actually learned how to make the chairs last through the whole season, and when we did, I told him I wasn’t gonna build them no more that he needed to start building his own chairs. And now he builds his own chairs. And he builds chairs for people and helps them out.

Alycia Anderson: Well, I didn’t know that. That’s so cool. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, Aaron “Wheelz” [Fotheringham] is an extreme wheelchair athlete who performs adaptive tricks or skateboarding and BMX, and he’s made all this impact on extreme sports for children and adults with disabilities.

And I love that you are part of the story in building the chair that has flown down so many skate ramps or pipes or whatever they’re called, and every time I see it…

Mike Box: It’s been a really interesting and great [thing]. By doing this, we’re hoping that it becomes an Olympic sport here in the next 10 years, 15 years, whatever it is, but it’s on the way.

Alycia Anderson: That’s so cool.

This is a perfect time to take a quick break. You are listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia and we will be right back.


Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I’m Alycia Anderson. We have Mike Box. He is the mind behind the magic of Box Wheelchairs.

Can you talk a little bit about some of the international work that you’ve done?

Mike Box: I’ve actually gone to Europe and taught some people how to weld and machine and build chairs.

It’s more of teaching people to do the right thing with things.

It’s like what’s on the top of my head for some reason. It’s… I’m going to South America next month. And the gentleman that wants me to go there, he says, “Mike, we can’t afford nothing.” I says, “I don’t want it.” He says, “I want to know if you can help our people design a everyday chair that we can get around places with?” And I, said “Yes.”

And then the next thing is, is we have to remember a lot of our work. It’s about love and not about the almighty dollar.

And he says, “well, what’s it going to cost us?” And I says, “it’s not going to cost you guys nothing. I just and I’m going to take a week off and go down there.”

I’ve also done some third world country stuff down in Nicaragua and what I do down there is we send a bunch of junk down there, all of wheelchairs, then we go and we get to put them together and meet the needs of the individuals.

I’ve had, individuals carry their children five and six hours in order for them to get a wheelchair.

We get in the wheelchair and it’s night day. I don’t know how to explain it, but the love that is out there. Is true. And I do that around the U.S., it’s wherever… a kids camp is.

My philosophy is now that we’ve met and you see a kid that needs something like a chair and you don’t tell me… we’re gonna have words.

It’s like that little 17 year old I met many years ago.

Alycia Anderson: What I’m hearing from you is the global need of not only the product, but educating many, many more people to fill the need of the global disabled population… that doesn’t even have access to a wheelchair to live there.

Mike Box: Correct. And that’s the best way to put it.

Alycia Anderson: I think some of the biggest work that you’re doing is teaching your craft so it lives on forever. We need more innovators like you.

Mike Box: Yeah, it’s so important.

If any of your listeners feel like they need to come and see what it’s like or want to try to build a chair for themselves, please… my place is open to that… because then the tree blossoms even more.

Alycia Anderson: I thought it would be interesting to learn a little bit about you. Like, what is your passion outside of Box Wheelchairs?

Mike Box: The wilderness. Going out and bringing home dinner. That’s the only place it seems that Mike can relax.

My number one thing is helping people.

That’s part of my relaxing is finding somebody with a problem and fixing it.

Alycia Anderson: You know what I love about your passion, too? The wilderness, the place that you can relax, find some solace… that is reflecting in your chair design, right, because you’re creating chairs that go to the beach… that go on the sand… that go in the mountains… that hike up trails. That… the mini box, but for the little kids could go play on the playgrounds and play tennis and go to the basketball court and play hockey and y’all his chairs they fill the need of every activity!

Like… I can’t even think of an activity that your chairs don’t fill the need.

So you took your passion of being in the wilderness, being outside, and you’re also gifting that to your customers, clients, friends, family, whatever you want to call them or all of the above to be able to do that throughout their life too.

That’s really awesome.

Mike Box: That’s sort of this right here… and it’s listening.

Because that’s what we need to do. I mean, I don’t know. I can’t sit back and go do the things I wanna do. I… it’s like my air boat.

I had an individual that… he still works for me. He’s a double amputee and he has no elbow on his left arm and he builds wheelchairs for me.

He tried for many years to get a job. Nobody would hire him because of the way he looks.

So I asked him what he would like to do and he said and he pushes a one-armed wheelchair and he says, “I want to go through the Bay and I want to be able to with my wheelchair, go push through the water… in the mud.”

[I think] OK, well, that’s easy.

And then he goes, “I want to be able to go take my clients out there.”

I said OK.

So I ended up buying an airboat and making it all hand controls. He can drive the boat now. He’s afraid to tell me something now what he wants to do because he’s gonna find out. He’s gonna have to do it then.

Alycia Anderson: Powerful story threefold. That’s a story of friendship. That’s a story of belief. And that’s the story of adapting to create inclusion. And that is the point!

Is thinking outside of the box and adapting to make things possible. It’s so awesome.

Mike Box: Yes it goes to show if, you have the willpower, you can do anything.

Alycia Anderson: Before we get to our pushing forward moment, did we miss anything that you want to share?

Mike Box: Not really, not… the only thing I can share is I’m not helping enough people that need help.

I don’t care if you’re in your chair, my chair, the chair, whatever.

There’s always a solution to help you go on to the next level.

Alycia Anderson: How do I? How do we find you for that?

Mike Box: How do you find me? You Google, Box Wheelchairs. You Google, Mike Box. You Google, crazy old man. And if we can’t help you, there’s somebody out there that I can point you to.

Alycia Anderson: We’re going to leave all of Mike’s information… website… how to get a hold of him, how to order his awesome chairs and put your kids in and every adult in them because they’re powerful and beautiful and you can be very self expressive in them.

I love that. I’m just going to say it out loud. I love you. You’re my family. Thank you for every single solitary gift that you have given me as I have grown into the woman that I am today.

Mike Box: Thank you.

Alycia Anderson: I can’t imagine ever being in a wheelchair that was not built from your hands, and I’m so grateful and privileged for every gift that you’ve given me in my life.

Seriously, I hope you know, but we do a pushing forward moment, so I’m going to put you on the spot a little bit.

Do you have something that you can share with our listeners to inspire them? Either in their own lives or in their advocacy, or in their beliefs.

Mike Box: Can you see? Hashtag PHP.

Alycia Anderson: Hashtag PHP tell us what that stands for.

Mike Box: That stands for People Helping People.

Alycia Anderson: People helping people. Beautiful Mike, and the emotion that just came out of you when you said it… is what… it is…that is…, that is you, heart and soul.

Mike Box: Thank you.

Alycia Anderson: Thank you for being a part of my life. Thank you for doing this.

Mike Box: Thanks for having me. This is absolutely wonderful.

Alycia Anderson: You are just an amazing human being, so thank you for being you.

Mike Box: And give Marty a big hug for me please.

Alycia Anderson: You know, I will. Thank you Mike so much for joining us today. This has been such a wonderful conversation.

Thank you so much to our listeners and our community, that’s helping us grow each and every time that you join a conversation with us… and subscribe… and leave a review… and like… and all of that!

Until next time, this is Pushing Forward with Alycia and that is how we roll in Box Wheelchairs on this show.

We’ll see you next time.