The first thing one notices about Andrew Bogdanov is his smile. Friendly and genuine, Bogdanov immediately puts everyone at ease. The second thing one notices? Oh, yeah. He's in a wheelchair.
The twenty-year-old Bogdanov isn't sitting around feeling sorry for himself, though. As he writes on the Rebel Handcycles Facebook page (more about that later), on February 14, Valentine's Day, "Today is a very special day for Rebel. As many of you know Valentine's Day of 2014 marks the day of my snowboarding accident. Many consider this day a tragedy, but I chose to celebrate this anniversary. This marks change and a new beginning."
Bogdanov explains, "I was told by doctors that I would be a paraplegic for the rest of my life and that I would need assistance for daily living. I was devastated and angry, not at the doctors, but at the circumstances. Instead of letting it bring me down, I fully trusted God and started searching for ways that I could live a rad life in a wheelchair."
Gifted with natural athletic abilities, Bogdanov was on the Bradshaw Mountain High School team in his junior and senior year. He was part of the 2010-11 team that handed Prescott one of its most lopsided losses ever from rival Bradshaw, 49-6. In his Sr. year, Bogdanov had a total of 57 tackles in 10 games, including 7 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries. He was also the kicker, with 32 kickoffs, and 44 points, for an average of 4.4 points per game. He made 4 out of 5 field goal attempts. He was a smart player, with the highest number of tackles for loss and sacks of anyone on his team.
Bogdanov's number was 84 while he played for Bradshaw Mountain.
So, it's not terribly surprising that even though he found himself in a wheelchair when he was only 19, he wasn't willing to give up working out and using his natural athletic abilities. "As I was searching I came across the sport of hand-cycling," Bogdanov writes on Facebook. "The first time I tried it, I was hooked. It made me feel independent and I was able to get a killer work-out. Hand-cycling made me forget that I was even in a wheelchair!"
The problem was that he found the handcycle to be a bit unwieldy for a disabled person. "...a fter a few rides I noticed design problems with the bike. I couldn't turn very well, my foot would drag as I turned, getting in the bike was a hassle, and I was getting injured using the bike."
Handcycles are also expensive. Do a search on Google, and you'll find they are usually priced between $2000-8000. Anxious to be independent, Bognadov started attending NAU-Yavapai, pursuing a degree in Entrepreneurship. Knowing there was a demand for better quality cycles, he decided to develop a better bike at a more affordable cost. But he knew he couldn't do it alone.
Enter fellow student Patrick Burdell, 42. On the surface, it might appear that they were unlikely partners. Burdell was old enough to be Bogdanov's father, a divorced man with two children, back in school for re-training. But Burdell had a disability of his own, and understood Bogdanov's passion for creating a safer and better handcycle. After sharing their ideas and perspectives and goals, they collaborated and decided to create Rebel Handcycles.
Now Burdell is focused on refining prototypes. Helped by the staff and faculty at NAU-Yavapai, the two of them are also in the process of developing funding, manufacturing, engineering and all the other things that go with owning a business and selling products.
In the meantime, Bogdanov has more dreams to pursue and places to go. Starting Saturday, March 7, in fact. Bogdonav leaves for Mexico with the Embry Riddle Chi Alpha students who are biking the more-than 260 miles to San Luis, Sonora, Mexico where they will provide assistance to an orphanage that needs a new roof. Some of the Chi Alpha students will ride second-hand bikes from Prescott to Mexico, and Bogdanov plans to handcycle along with them. Yep, all 264 miles.
Burdell will travel along in a support van with the group. Once the bicyclists arrive at their destination (taking about 5 days for the journey) other Chi Alpha members will join them in their work at the orphanage. They will return around March 14 via vehicles, because the Chi Alpha students plan to leave the bicycles in Mexico for the benefit of the locals there. Bogdanov will ride back with Burdell in the support van.
Bogdanov is enthusiastic as always. " ADIOS AMIGOS!! We leave tomorrow on our 264 mile bike ride to Mexico! Thank you all for your prayer and support. Come join us tomorrow at 7am at Manzanita Outdoor in Prescott as we kick off!"
eNews will be following Bogdanov and the Chi Alpha students as they pedal to Mexico and build a tin roof. Stay tuned for updates!