Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Guest Interview: Nathan Gonzalez

Happy Tuesday! If you’ll recall, earlier in the week I posted about a fundraiser for Nathan Gonzalez, who’s trying to raise money to get his iBot wheelchair fixed before the factory closes for good. 

The backstory here is that I saw this post on reddit last Monday. To summarize, Nathan is a former Marine who served two tours but was hit by a drunk driver and paralyzed on his return. He's done some great stuff and overcome a lot, but you'll read more about that in a bit. Nathan is trying to get some crucial repairs done on a special wheelchair he uses which has the ability to climb steps. Unfortunately, the company is going out of business and closing its doors on 3/31. The repairs, therefore, need to be done before that.

I caught up with Nathan and asked him a few questions about life, love and beer. Or more accurately, life, San Antonio, and beer.

K: Hey, Nathan! Great to meet you. Let’s talk hashing. What’s your hash name?

N: Porno Rican

K: Where’s your mother hash?

N: Okinawa, Japan. Started in 1998.

K: Home hash?

N: Cross between San Antonio H3, Kiss My H3, and Alamo City Humpin’ Hash. Basically, San Antonio.

K: In how many cities have you hashed?

N: 10+, mostly in the Pacific.

K: Did you have a favorite?

N: Okinawa, of course.

K: What made it so great?

N: The terrain varied so much and the trails and parks were amazing.  Shiggy, Shiggy, Shiggy! My favorite trail I ran and hared was a Lemming long trail, which was about 4 miles long. We ran the pack to a 25-foot cliff up against the ocean.  We had a safety swimmer in the water and the pack had to jump off into the water like lemmings and swim about 100 yards to an adjacent island where we had a huge bonfire going.  If anyone didn’t want to swim, they could walk 2 miles across a bridge instead.  It was my favorite hash.

K: Let’s go back to your home hash, which is currently San Antonio. Are you from there originally?

N: Yeah, I’m from SA.

K: Cool! I’m originally from San Antonio, too. Where did you go to high school?

N: I went to Jefferson High School. Class of 1996.

K: Are you a Spurs fan?

N: Haha, if you live in San Antonio, you are raised to be a Spurs fan. We’re only the best team in the league with the best records. I can’t even remember when we didn’t make the playoffs. Sucks about last year but I’m sure we’ll repeat this year.

K: Who’s your favorite player?

N: I’d say Manu Ginobili. Dude is versatile in and out of the paint. Although I also love [Danny] Green and his killer 3-pointers.

K: One of your pictures shows you making a Roadrunners sign with your hand, which is like the Longhorn equivalent for the University of Texas at San Antonio. Did you attend UTSA?

N: Yeah, I just graduated in December.

K: What was your major?

N: I received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Business Management with a concentration in Entrepreneurship.

K: Very nice. I read online that you were part of a project team that was nominated for an award. Tell me a little about that.

N: My Senior Project for my Entrepreneurship class was to work on a product that the engineering students had been working on during the prior semester, which was a mind-controlled wheelchair. It was our team’s job to take their product, build a business plan, model and market it.  Along with getting patents, FDA approvals, and companies to partner up with us it was a challenging process to finish in just a semester.

Essentially, you would take an EEG Headset, basically a head harness with leads on it, and this headset would pick up electrical signals.  These were then interpreted by an Arduino board, sent to a computer, and fed to the chair as commands.  It takes some training for the computer to recognize the thought commands but it was really cool to see the product in action.  

We competed with a wide range of other products in the competition for a $100,000 prize.  We came in 4th, which was pretty cool in its own right.  I had a good team though.  Who knows what they'll think of next.

K: Have you been able to attend many UTSA football games?

N: Unfortunately, I’ve only been to a couple.  I just didn't have time with studies.  I hope to go more now that I have the free time.

K: I also see you’re a Marine. Thank you for your service. How long did you serve?

N: I served just over 6 years before I was medically retired due to injuries. 

K: What’s your favorite beer?

N: Well, Lone Star is our hash beer but outside the hash I like pilsners or light beers. Stella, Carlsberg, DosXX.

K: What do you do for a living?

N: Currently, I handle billing and invoicing for my family’s business. It takes up 3-4 hours per week. I’m job hunting right now, so if you know anything…

K: So, you’re trying to get your iBot wheelchair fixed because the company is going out of business. What makes the iBot chair different from most?

N: Well, the main thing that separates the iBot from others is the stair climbing feature.  This chair is like a mini ATV.  It has the ability to climb a 8” curb.  This really is the only reason why I want to save my chair.  The little feature is invaluable to me to.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve had to use it to traverse something in my way.  I’ve been to parks that have a curb and no ramped walkway to get up onto the grass. I’ve gone to older restaurants that were grandfathered into the requirement for an ADA ramp and had to use that step climber to get in.  Also, not all sidewalks are wheelchair friendly. Sometimes, I have no choice but to jump the curb and drive on the street.  Without it I’d have to double back blocks and then take the street.  Both my parents’ and my brother’s homes have 5” steps.  Visiting them without this feature is difficult. 

Additionally, this chair has a lift feature that allows my seat to raise up to a bar level.  It makes a big difference in how people treat you and interact with you.  Being in a wheelchair people naturally look down on you all the time.  Being eye level people engage you more and treat you with more respect in my opinion.  Although other chairs have similar features, ibot can go higher.  I can up upright to just under 6’.  One of the best parts is that it balances on two wheels, which leaves a smaller foot print when moving around.  Lastly…it just looks cool. It’s a perfect Hash chair in and out of circle. 

K: Outside of hashing, do you have any other hobbies?

N: My Facebook shows it all mostly.  I’m a movie nut, I religiously follow most popular TV shows, I’m a hard core gamer. I’ve also enjoyed sky diving, scuba diving, and of course, I’m a hasher. 

K: Awesome! Thanks for taking the time and I hope you're able to get the repairs done for your chair.

Thanks for reading! For more information or to donate to Nathan's cause, click here

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