Making magical costumes for kids in wheelchairs fills Ryan’s heart with joy!
When Ryan Weimer turned his little boy’s electric wheelchair into an elaborate pirate ship for Halloween, he had no idea how much happiness and confidence he’d be giving— not just to his son but to children in wheelchairs all over the world
What do you want to be for Halloween, buddy?” Ryan Weimer excitedly asked his 3-year-old son, Keaton. Without missing a beat, Keaton, who has a rare form of muscular dystrophy called spinal muscular atrophy that affects the control of muscle movement, looked up from his wheelchair and blurted, “A pirate!” “That’s the best idea ever!” Ryan smiled. And that night, the Keizer, Oregon, father searched the internet into the wee hours of the morning for the perfect pirate outfit. “I want to make this special for him,” Ryan told his wife, Lana. After all, this would be Keaton’s first Halloween in his powered wheelchair and Ryan had already seen the neighborhood children stop in their tracks when they saw Keaton at the playground. I want him to be the center of attention for a different reason, Ryan thought. Suddenly, he had a magical idea: Every pirate needs a ship. What if I construct a ship around Keaton’s chair?
An unexpected mission
A few weeks and two failed attempts later, Ryan had finally built the perfect boat to surround his son’s wheelchair. “It’s so cool!” Keaton crowed with joy as excitement lit up his face like Ryan had never seen.
The night of Halloween, Keaton, dressed as a pirate, could barely contain his joy as Ryan attached the boat
to his chair. “Argh!” the boy cried as he sped off to find his Halloween plunder.
“That’s the most awesome costume I’ve ever seen!” one child exclaimed as Keaton made his way down the sidewalk.
As Keaton laughed, reveling in the attention of children and adults alike, Ryan felt his eyes well with tears. “People are really seeing him,” he said to Lana. “It’s not just about his wheelchair…it’s about him.”
As his son giggled with glee, Ryan knew he’d never forget the joy of that night… and the seed of an idea was planted.
The power of giving
Over the next few years, Ryan continued to build costumes for Keaton and his younger son, Bryce, who had also been born with spinal muscular atrophy. But for Halloween of 2014, Ryan was faced with his greatest challenge yet. “I want to be a dragon rider from How to Train Your Dragon!” Keaton exclaimed.
“That means I’d have to build Toothless the dragon…right?” Ryan asked, as his son nodded. It would be a huge project, and Ryan quickly realized that the cost of materials was far beyond his family’s budget. So he began a Kickstarter campaign, pledging that any money he made past the original goal of $4,500 would go toward starting a nonprofit that builds costumes for other kids in wheelchairs.
When the campaign reached $10,000, Magic Wheelchair (Magicwheelchair.org) was born, and Ryan and a team of volunteers got started. In their first year, they created eight costumes for kids in Oregon, Atlanta and Florida. By the second year, that number had grown to 25 across the country. Last year, Magic Wheelchair created more than 80 costumes—all free!
And the kids aren’t the only ones who are overjoyed. One Colorado mom raves, “Each time my daughter gets to wear her costume, she shines—it was such a beautiful and life-changing experience for her.”
For Ryan, there’s no greater gift than seeing the smiles light up each child’s face. “These kids spread so much joy and remind us to love each other and love our neighbor,” he says, his voice breaking. “Everything we do at Magic Wheelchair is done out of that love. The truth is, I’m just a dad who wanted to make his sons’ Halloween magical—so to be able to do that for so many other kiddos is a true blessing!”
Brothers Bryce ( left) and Keaton ( right), who both have spinal muscular atrophy, sporting their How to Train Your Dragon costumes in 2014 The costume that began it all! In 2008, when Ryan’s oldest son Keaton was 3 years old, Ryan made his first wheelchair “ship”— and set them all off on a new, joyful course!
“These kids remind us of what’s truly important: love!” says Ryan (left) with his son Keaton (right) in 2016
Ryan lets kids choose their designs, like the Sugar Cart from Wreck-it Ralph
Ryan also makes costumes for Comic Con, like The Flash