Rocky Grimes stretches his arms out, gesturing to the view that greets his golf cart at the top of the hill. He grins as he takes in the valleys and sunshine visible from the pre-driver’s education course of his own design.
It’s his favorite part of his 50 acres in West Liberty, about 60 miles west of Columbus.
It’s his masterpiece.
It’s where Grimes, 46, lives with his family, working 12 hours a day, seven days a week on his “labor of love”—called Heart of Unlimited Boundaries—a physical therapy oasis that’s equal parts muscle training and adrenaline rush.
All of the go-karts and other small vehicles are customized by Grimes. They’re tailored for operation by people with various physical and cognitive disabilities. Some are powered by the headrest instead of a gas pedal, some can be steered with one arm and some have seats that can fully recline, allowing a person with muscular dystrophy to stretch their legs.
For a person with high-functioning autism, for instance, he created the pre-driver’s ed course, adjusting cone placements for length, width and skills. Some learn the basics of steering and accelerating, some learn to parallel park.
“If you engage the mind, the body will follow,” Grimes said. “That’s the principle for it all.”
For a “gearhead” like Grimes, the mechanics are simply problem solving once the needs are understood. His 17 years of working with special needs individuals—as a horsemanship instructor and trail guide at Marmon Valley Farm in Zanesville and as a therapeutic riding instructor at Discovery Riders, near Bellefontaine—and his lifelong love of cars mean ideas come naturally.
This summer, Grimes hosted 38 people–ages 2 to 82–each week, with 18 on his waiting list. Some families came from Cincinnati and Akron every week to bring their children to Grimes’ nonprofit, which operates on the former campus of Adriel School. The fields and forests provide a backdrop for outdoor trails where older kids learn to operate go-karts.
The 2- to 5-year-olds’ program is called Going Places. Inside the gym, a track with coloring, counting, bowling and puzzle stations outlines the basketball court. A drag racing course—complete with a smoke machine for burnouts—runs through the middle. Adults from Heart of Unlimited Boundaries work directly with the kids, running the remote control cars and staffing stations.
“You have kids with disabilities looking up at an adult with a disability thinking, ‘He is in charge. He is somebody,’ ” Grimes said. “It’s not just little kids in cars.”
Grimes is the only one who works on the vehicles, and though his family helps maintain the courses, he needs resources.
“I’ve watched him in between sessions in the brutal summer, lie down on the concrete floor of the barn and pour water on himself to cool down,” said Pearl Cline, board president of Heart of Unlimited Boundaries. “When the next kid comes, he springs up.”
Grimes hopes to get the attention of a physical trainer who could develop doctor-approved routines.
“We want to have someone who can legitimize the science behind this,” Cline said. “We are looking at opportunities to serve some of the more limited.”
The money for operations comes from families, donations and the occasional sponsor. Last year, The Columbus Foundation donated $20,000. Without charging parents more, there isn’t room in the budget to hire anyone who can do what Grimes can. And they don’t want to turn anyone away, since some parents are desperate for a program like this one.
“The most disabled people are the ones that are marginalized—people feel sorry for them, they are sitting in a chair doing nothing,” Cline said. “Rocky makes sure they are (active) every time.”