As any family, we are excited that our son is graduating from the United States Airforce Academy. Attending this graduation is a real honor as we know that it isn’t an easy feat to complete four years of academics as well as military training. To show our support and appreciation of his accomplishments, we had several of our family members attend the celebration, including his 90-year old great-grandmother.
Although his great-grandmother does not act her age, a very active 90-year old who goes to the gym daily, we knew that we would be doing a lot of walking. With the change of altitude and the speed at which we walk we knew we needed to get a wheelchair for her, although we had never experienced traveling and sightseeing with someone in a wheelchair.
Here are some recommendations to consider if you need to bring a wheelchair along to a USAFA graduation as it was all worth it as his great-grandmother had the time of her life seeing him graduate. We enjoyed being all together and our cadet appreciated having everyone at his graduation.
Planning for Extra Time
When you arrive at the airport and before entering it, I suggest that you locate a wheelchair at the baggage check-in counter. If a wheelchair is not there, ask the baggage handling agent to locate one for you. Once inside, locate the elevators to move up and down levels within the airport. All of these options will take extra time as they are typically a little further away from the usual path to the gates.
Rent a Wheelchair
Before arriving in Colorado Springs, I had researched medical equipment rental businesses to rent a wheelchair and selected Major Medical. Major Medical allowed me to reserve the wheelchair as many other companies didn’t have that to offer. Once we arrived in Colorado Springs we drove to their office and picked up the wheelchair. The friendly staff gave us easy instructions on how to operate the chair.
Prepare for Altitude Change
Encourage the disabled traveler to start drinking more water than usual before the trip to avoid getting lightheaded. Once you land continue to drink water as the climate and altitude may cause you to get a headache. Along with dealing with the higher altitude and a drier climate you will find it takes a little more effort than usual to push the person in the wheelchair. Get in shape!
What Not To Leave At Home
When packing for the trip, make sure you include the handicap parking permit so that you can hang it in your rental car for access to a handicap parking space.
Pack an umbrella, as you will quickly find out that you will be spending a lot of time outside in the sun for various events. Graduation ceremonies typically occur during the brightest part of the day therefore you will need shade to protect yourself. A hat will work as well but an umbrella will also protect the arms and other parts of the body exposed to the sun.
Bring sunscreen and apply it frequently while in Colorado Springs. You may think you are not getting a lot of sun because the cool breeze, but your skin will burn. Very little humidity and much drier than usual, so you don’t notice how hot the temperature is because you don’t sweat either.
Sunglasses are a must due to the bright sun while attending the parade and graduation events. There aren’t many shaded areas during these events and there’s no way you could avoid being exposed to the sun which you’ll be exposed to often.
Although my family laughed when they saw the 24 chapsticks I brought on the trip but they quickly started asking me for a stick when their lips became chapped. Due to the dry climate, you will have the tendency to lick your lips often which soon will dry them out. Carry Chapstick with you and apply often.
Being I am little bit of a clean freak, I also brought small packages of wet-wipes for all of us. The elderly typically have a low immune system and know that they will be touching a lot of handrails, so I wanted to make sure they had something to clean their hands with often.
When you attend any of the events at the USAFA, you will be required to carry a clear bag so that they can see what you are bringing into the stadiums. One of the USAFA parent organizations sold USAFA clear bags as a fundraiser, so a purchased a few as gifts for those attending the graduation. These bags came in handy and made it easy to carry what we needed in and out of the various events we attended.
Attending Graduation Parade
Before attending the graduation parade, I highly recommend driving to Stillman Field to check out the handicap parking location.
We arrived at 7:30 A.M., the day of the parade and were able to find a parking space close to where the shuttle picked us up to take us to the gate. Due to the vast number of people attending this event, it is advisable to have only one person accompany the person in the wheelchair so that things move more quickly. Once you arrive at the gate you will go through a bag search. Wheelchair ramps are at both ends of the stadium. Discuss with your cadet to find out where his squad will be stationed on the field so that you can sit in that section of the stadium. This will also make it easier to locate your cadet after the parade is over.
Again, I must remind you to bring an umbrella, sunscreen, sunglasses, plenty of water and possibly some snacks, as you will need all of them while you wait for the ceremony to begin. Port-O-Potty’s are available if you should need to use the restroom. Those in wheelchairs will stay seated in the chair along the front edge of the stadium seats. Don’t place someone in a wheelchair on the ends of the aisle, as people arriving late will stand in their view.
Upon departure of the stadium, one must have patience, as the 20,000 people attending are all trying to ride the shuttle back to the parking lot.
Graduation at Falcon Stadium
The day of graduation it is a bit like organized chaos. Handicap parking is close to the stadium. Ask the person directing traffic to point you in the right direction. Although you will be sitting a while waiting for the ceremony to begin, you can NOT bring umbrellas into the stadium for security reasons. For that reason, be sure to wear sunscreen or cover sensitive areas of your skin. You may bring water bottles as long as the cap has not been broken, snacks, and a camera. Selfie sticks are not allowed in the stadium. All items carried in must be in a clear bag. Wheelchair seating is at the top of each section with one chair for a guest to sit alongside them. Restrooms are a bit tight to maneuver in a wheelchair, it would be best to have them walk into the restroom, even if you have to provide some assistance.
Once graduation has ended, the line for people in wheelchairs wanting to ride in the golf-carts to transport them to their car is a long extensive waiting process. I recommend that you have only one person accompany your family member who is in a wheelchair. Once at the vehicle it is a long line of cars waiting to leave the base. I suggest either being prepared to wait awhile or have a picnic with family and friends until traffic subsides.
Being prepared and making plans for the extra time made everything go smoothly.
Participating in the graduation festivities and seeing our cadet walk the stage was truly an honor and experience we will never forget. I am so happy that our cadet’s 90 year old great-grandmother was able to join us and see her great-great grandson graduate from the USAFA Academy.