Most weekday mornings, drivers in Edgewater see a father escorting his two sons to school as they zip by on Oakwood Road.
What makes Bill Anderson’s journey different is that he makes the trip in a Storm Series Arrow motorized wheelchair. Son Collin, 4, rides on the fast-moving chair standing on a platform in the rear. Jordan, 7, walks alongside.
Anderson is a quadriplegic, the result of an accident when he was a senior at South River High School.
The trip is no easy task.
Collin attends the preschool at Joy Reigns Lutheran Church on Mayo Road. Jordan is a first-grader at Edgewater Elementary. The Andersons’ journey from home to school crosses an obstacle course on Oakwood Road.
One side of the roadway does not have a sidewalk. After a January snowstorm, homeowners on the other side didn’t shovel their sidewalks.
One resident liked to park his car on the sidewalk, forcing father and sons to maneuver down a driveway ramp, into the busy street, up another driveway ramp before continuing on their way.
To Anderson and his wife, Kelly, it’s just part of their life.
“I never knew him outside of his wheelchair,” she said. “It would be different if he’d been not disabled and then something happened. He’s a pretty regular guy. He doesn’t dwell on it.
“It’s a big part of his life, but not the biggest.”
One evening, near the end of the school year in 1983, Anderson played hookey from class and went to a party. At some point, he was alone and dove into shallow water headfirst. Anderson broke his neck in two places, causing permanent spinal damage. Several minutes later, friends found him unconscious, floating face down in the water.
Taken to Anne Arundel Medical Center, he was on a respirator for about a month and had a tube in his throat, which created scar tissue. “Now, I have a tracheotomy and a plastic tube in my neck to keep the airway open,” Anderson said. Susceptible to infections, he’s had several serious bouts of pneumonia in the 35 years since his accident.
Thirty-five years later, Anderson cannot use his fingers, but adapts with his knuckles and finger joints to deftly utilize the controls on his chair, the family’s TV set, his two telephones, his computer, plus various knobs and sensors around his home.
He met Kelly, his wife of 20 years, during one of his stays at Anne Arundel Medical Center. She is an Emergency Room nurse.
“I took care of him and something clicked,” she said. “We were friendly. Our friendship developed into something more. We met in ’92, bought a house together in ’94 and married in ’98.”
After they moved into the Edgewater house in 2007, the two decided they wanted to start a family. They took courses, became certified to be foster parents.
Jordan arrived in 2010. They picked him up from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at AAMC. They adopted him in 2011.
Collin, born in 2013, became a member of the family at 8 months; and was adopted early last year. .
Early on in taking the kids to school, Anderson ran into obstacles.
There is a gated pathway to the school campus on Oakwood Road between a car repair business and a residence. The narrow pathway is paved with lumpy – and often potholed – asphalt. It’s not unusual to find tree roots bumping up the path, or tree branches and debris strewn along it.
When Anderson first started taking Jordan to school and returning to pick him up in the afternoon, the gate would sometimes be closed and locked. He would then have to travel to the end of Oakwood Road onto Mayo Road. The east side of Mayo, the closest to the school, has no sidewalk or footpath and is unsafe for pedestrians – drivers routinely race along the curved roadway. He would have to cross the busy street and maneuver onto the sidewalk on the west side and traverse a couple blocks before crossing Mayo again and riding down Washington Road to the school.
After several meetings with the school’s officials, he got them to agree to leave the gate open around the clock.
He is still concerned that only one entrance to the school is handicap accessible. Anderson has to ride around to the rear of the building and ring a bell to be admitted.
To drop Collin off, the trio does the schlep onto Mayo Road. After a rainstorm, though, the ramp areas are filled with mud and gravel. On one occasion, the boys packed some shovels onto the wheelchair and used them to gouge and toss the mud out of their way.
His activism didn’t stop with the gate. When his wife is home to be with the kids, he attends PTA and school meetings.
While Anderson is a stay-at-home dad, he doesn’t stay at home all day. Anderson rides around the neighborhood and takes longer scoots to the London Town marina. The family vacations at summer camps, visits Hersey Park and an indoor waterpark in Williamsburg, and are regulars at the annual Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival and concerts at Wolf Trap.
“We’re just like anybody else,” said Kelly. “They’ll sometimes say I’m wonderful, that I’m an angel. I’m not.”