Halloween is a night when kids can be whatever they want to be. They can dress as ghosts, cowboys, astronauts, monsters — the sky’s the limit.
That’s exactly what Ryan Wiemer tells the kids he works with. The sky’s the limit.
His non-profit, called Magic Wheelchair, helps kids live unlimited by designing and building special costumes.
But these aren’t your average costumes. This goes way beyond cutting eyeholes in a sheet or applying a little makeup.
Think kids piloting boats captained by an animatronic SpongeBob Squarepants who sings. Picture kids riding dragons while hoisting swords.
Magic Wheelchair custom designs, as they say, the most epic costumes imaginable.
“When you have a limited time with your kids, you just want to do things big and help them have good experiences,” Ryan says. “And we were able to do that with a lot of families.”
Sadly, Ryan knows that better than most. He’s the father of three children, all of whom have spinal muscular atrophy, a type of muscular dystrophy. His daughter passed away when she was just three years old.
“We just want to make their time here enjoyable,” he says. One way he’s done that is by making Halloween costumes for his kids over the years. About six years ago, his oldest son, Keaton, wanted to be a pirate. It was Keaton’s first year using a power wheelchair.
“I looked at his chair and I was like, ‘I bet we could build a pirate ship around his chair.’ So, we did,” Ryan says. “It was really just dressing a kid up for Halloween, but what happened is his experience and our experience was — it really choked me up.”
Sailing down the street in his wheelchair-powered pirate ship, the little boy found more than just acceptance. He was an instant celebrity.
“There’s this barrier between things we see that are different or people that are different. We don’t know how to approach them. Is it OK to talk to them and ask them about why they’re in a chair?” Ryan says. “So, with that costume on his chair, those barriers disappeared and kids didn’t hesitate to come up to him and just the community in general. That barrier, that awkwardness, was gone.”
Seeing his son as the superstar of the neighborhood got Ryan thinking. What if he could do this for other kids and families?
That’s when Magic Wheelchair was born. Just a year old, the non-profit already has costume building teams across the United States, from California to Oregon, to New York and Atlanta. They even have teams in Canada and Chile.
“Our builders are able to go meet with the families, take some pictures, and meet with the kiddo,” Ryan says. “They have a design session and talk to the kid. What do you want us to build? Sky’s the limit.”
When one boy saw his costume — a complete Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle van — he was shocked.
“He was a huge fan of Ninja Turtles. Out of everything we could build, that’s what he wanted us to build and he came out of the house and was stunned for a second. He just kept saying, ‘This is sick, this is just so sick,'” Ryan recalls. “It was pretty cool to see. To just kind of sit back and watch that happen is one of my favorite things.”
They’ve tackled a T-rex, Mario Karts, a princess carriage, and much more. Now they’re looking into how they can use technology within the costumes to increase the interaction between the kids and the community, especially for those children who can’t speak.
And they are always looking to put smiles on many more faces.
“We just want to keep growing and to keep building,” Ryan says. “Our mission is to build for every kid in a wheelchair, and then when we do that, start over again.”