When you were injured, what kind of wheelchair did you get? A lightweight manual or a powerchair? Either way, it sure wasn’t a 60 pound steel wheelchair. Times have changed a lot since ancient wheelchairs were made (praise God!), and we have Marilyn Hamilton thank for it, the co-founder of Quickie Wheelchairs.
A driven businesswoman, Marilyn, 63, is without question one of the most successful people with spinal cord injuries in the corporate world. Her insatiable desire for success is what catapulted her to where she is today, and where she is, is pretty dang exciting.
Why she’s fearless?
Marilyn was born to succeed. Before her hang gliding accident at age 29 (caused by a personal error), Marilyn was already showing her love of being involved in the community. In 1967 at age 18, she was the National Raisin Queen; a huge award for California girls (and it takes a young woman with a strong personality to get it).
Before her accident, Marilyn was the quintessential California girl addicted to being active. So when she was discharged in her 60 lb. wheelchair, that was when she had the biggest revelation of her life: Why not use hang gliding materials to create an extremely light wheelchair, something that felt like it was part of your body? And that is how her multimillion dollar company, now known as Sunrise Medical, was born.
After she co-founded Quickie wheelchairs a couple years after accident (with the help of two hang gliding buddies who were handy when it came to engineering), her next goal was to create ultra lightweight sport chairs because she was an athlete herself. She made one of the first tennis wheelchairs, enabling the person in it to play better than they have ever been able to before. She also makes mono-skis, bi-skis and sit-down water skis.
Her sport chairs transformed the world of adapted sports, making people finally excited about playing sitting down (it was so hard for many before). Sure, there were plenty of veteran-based adapted games before these chairs were created, but it was not until the 1980s when you really saw a boom in adapted sports, and that is all thanks to Marilyn. She even used one of her mono-ski chairs to win the silver medal in the 1982 Winter Paralympics. She also gave tennis a go after her accident (she never played before) and was the National Wheelchair Tennis Singles Champion in both 1982 and 1983. Dang!
In addition to co-founding Quickie Wheelchairs, Marilyn founded Winner On Wheels, to help kids with disabilities find their confidence through sports. Her dedication to her company won her a Minerva Award in 2006 to; one of the top honors California gives to its most successful and inspiring women (it was doled out by former first Lady Maria Shriver no less). Marilyn considers this one of her greatest professional accomplishments.
Marilyn has been married twice (she married her high school sweetheart, and is now married to Bob Hamilton, whom she calls ‘Mr. Spectacular’). She also has a beautiful 3,000 square foot home in Fresno, California where she spends half of her time each year, and the rest of the year she’s traveling, giving motivational speeches to companies throughout the world, and pretty much enjoying her comfy laurels.
Quickie continues to be one of the top wheelchair manufacturers in the world (despite new wheelchair companies giving them a run for money). Who knows, maybe we’ll see one more great invention from the brilliant Marilyn before she retires? Really, books should be written about her business acumen.
Have you founded a company post-injury? Any successful advice?
Watch the videos!
- The Women’s Conference 2006: Minerva Awards – Marilyn Hamilton (one of the highest honors given to a woman in California each year)
- Reinventing the Wheelchair (Marilyn teams up w/ a paralyzed model to create designer wheelchairs)