Giving the gift of speed |

Giving the gift of speed

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Carson High School senior Kevin Petersen, 17, receives a new wheelchair from Capitol City Loans elves, from center, Jennifer Brooks, Maria Torres and Theresa Ohl on Friday at the high school.

Kevin Petersen wheels himself into the nurse’s office at Carson High School wearing jeans and a black T-shirt that reads: “All I want for Christmas is Santa’s bad girl list.”

On the back of his chair, his backpack hides a pair of wry, humorous (and unprintable) bumper stickers.

Normally as irreverent and anti-conformist as any teenager, the 17-year-old senior was left temporarily speechless by a holiday gift donated by Capitol City Loans of Carson City.

Petersen, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident when he was 14, was presented with an Invacare Nutron R51 LXP – the 650-watt, 6 mph, Cadillac of electric wheel chairs, complete with waterfall arm pads and a wheelie bar.

“I don’t know what to say right now,” he said.

He recounts the story of his accident. He was in the back of the car sleeping when his brother hit a patch of black ice that sent the car spinning into a 10-foot drop-off, ejecting him.

“I don’t remember any of it,” he said. “That’s just what I’m told happened.”

His brother recovered, and so did Kevin.

“At first it’s hard to adapt,” he said. “But there are always other things to do. You just have to have fun when you can, any way you can.”

He can do wheelies and pop curbs, but wouldn’t admit to trying any outright ramp jumps, though the look in his eye says he’s thought about it.

Theresa Ohl of Capitol City Loans said the company acquired the wheel chair through an estate sale and held a contest with the intention of giving the $5,000 Nutron to the most deserving person. Of course they needed someone who could handle the high-torque motor and the speed.

The company was impressed by Kevin, who is planning to start college at Western Nevada Community College next year, most likely to study French.

“He’s a kid with a bright future,” Ohl said. “WNCC has a lot of hills and we figure this will help him out.”

She praised owner Bill Burnaugh, who is out of the country in Thailand. “Without his support, we’d never be able to do this.”

Petersen, who has two brothers and two sisters is looking forward to studying abroad next year and hopes to go to the South of France.

He tries out the new chair, but like a lot of teens, being the center of attention seems to fit best only when he’s asking for it. He knows one thing – he definitely wants that big red bow taken off ASAP.

He relaxes as the room clears and the picture-taking is finished. He said chairs are like bikes, and have to be adjusted for a proper fit.

Talking one-on-one, the wheel chair disappears behind the high schooler’s charisma. He talks for a while about nothing in particular. He’s still got a government class to go to today. He reaches out and extends his hand. He has a firm handshake, the mark of a man who knows a lot about who he is.

Contact reporter Peter Thompson at or 881-1215.