Learning to adapt

Published 11:44 am Saturday, June 19, 2010

SEDLEY—Travis Felts hopes to be racing his 1970s Ford Fairmont at Langley Speedway in Hampton by next spring.

“My dad, Jay, my cousin, Len Turner, and I have been trying to get the car in shape for a while now, and we should have it ready by then,” he said.

“Getting this car in shape” is a little different than working on the average car. It has to be changed entirely to hand control for Felts, who is paralyzed from his shoulders down.

The 38-year-old was injured in a pickup crash in December 1991. His neck was broken and his spinal cord was so badly mangled that doctors were not optimistic about his recovery.

But the determined young man would not be stopped.

During the last 19 years, he has become so independent that he follows a schedule even the most physically fit would find exhausting.

Following his accident near Sedley, Felts was flown to Norfolk Sentara Hospital for surgery. After about two months there, he was sent to Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Fishersville for therapy, where he had to relearn how to use his hands and arms.

“But Travis vowed to get back to doing the things he had always done,” said his mother, Anita Felts. “And I think I know when he made this decision.

“We were sitting in the dining room where Travis was attempting to feed himself, when he noticed another patient who could not even use his hands,” she continued. “He said to me, ‘You know mom, there are people who are a lot worse off than I am.’”

“That’s when he started working on building his strength and eventually worked up to weight-lifting and participating in some of the wheelchair sports,” Anita Felts said.

Travis Felts entered and won several wheelchair games, including discus throwing, javelin, weight lifting and shot put at the Fishersville center. He later won national and international competitions.

His stash of gold and silver medals is impressive.

Travis Felts said doctors and the center personnel were astounded at his progress. Even now, he is asked to return to speak and encourage patients.

When Felts returned home, his parents, the owners of Felts Machine Shop in Sedley, bought and equipped a truck with hand controls and a lift for his wheelchair.

After that, Travis Felts was hard to catch, his mother said with a smile. He started getting out, working in the shop with his dad, and making deliveries.

Travis Felts also cuts the grass with a tractor that has been fitted with hand controls.

“He is as independent as I am,” said his wife, Vicki, a stay-at-home mom. “I don’t hesitate for a moment to leave him to care for our children.”

Felts and his wife were married in 1999 and live in Sedley with sons Boyd, 7; Layne, 6; and Ford, 5.

A devoted husband and dad, Travis Felts is also a Mason, Ruritan and member of Sedley Baptist, where he sometimes serves as an usher.

“I also worked at a couple jobs for other people,” he said. “I was a dispatcher for Burgess Trucking Co., then later a 911 dispatcher for the county. I liked that work, but I also liked working with my dad, so I came back here.”

In 2005, Travis Felts and his parents bought a larger building outside of Suffolk on Route 13 and do most of the work there. He and his mother commute to Suffolk daily, while Jay Felts handles the shop in Sedley.

Travis Felts got into sand drag racing several years ago after his dad fitted a 1977 pickup with hand controls.

“A group of us would go out to someone’s field, with permission, of course, and race all over the place,” he said. “I was the only one with hand controls.

“Later we’d go to race tracks in places like Charlottesville and in North Carolina,” Travis Felts continued. “We also raced here in Southampton County.”

He doesn’t like to brag, but said he has won a lot of first-place awards.

“I’m really looking forward to getting out on the Langley Speedway,” Travis Felts said “That’s going to be awesome.”