A newsmaker you should know: Tom Sray fights from his wheelchair for accessibility

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Like any proud dad, Tom Sray used to cheer on his daughter during her soccer games at Hogan Field at South Fayette's Boys Home Park.

But he always did it from a distance.

Mr. Sray couldn't reach the fields without rolling through the grass in his wheelchair, so he watched the match from atop the hill that overlooks the field.

He has been working to change that.

Soon, that field will be accessible to all, joining three other parks in the township that can accommodate wheelchairs.

For his efforts, Keystone Coach Works, a mobility transportation and automotive company in Bethel Park, has named him local spokesman for May's National Mobility Awareness Month.

"I just like to help people who are disabled and can't do as much," Mr. Sray said.

"If I can help someone else that makes me feel good, too."

Mr. Sray has used a wheelchair since 1991.

A year earlier, he plunged 10 feet onto a metal bar after the scaffolding he was working on collapsed, fracturing his spine and leaving him paralyzed.

Even then, he was trying to be helpful.

He was laying brick on a home addition for a friend.

"It was just a freak thing," Mr. Sray said.

After months of rehabilitation, he regained feeling in his legs and arms.

But he can't move his legs, and doctors said he would never walk again.

After the accident, friends raised $10,000 for a wheelchair-accessible shower to be installed in Mr. Sray's home. The effort touched him.

"That's what really started my wanting to give back to the community," he said.

Mr. Sray started by working to make it easier for people who use wheelchairs to get around. A township commissioner since 1994, he worked with the parks and recreation director and township leaders to acquire grants for spots where he believed the most improvements were needed.

So far, they've received money to build parking spaces, accessible trails and walkways to fields at Morgan, Fairview and Sturgeon parks.

A grant from the Char West Council of Governments will fund half the cost of improvements at Boys Home Park, where Hogan Field is located.

His next project is to make the future community center accessible.

South Fayette commissioners bought the former Star City Cinema building in 2009 and plan to transform the old movie theater into township offices.

It will also house the police department and the library.

As a "local hero," Mr. Sray will share his story with the community to spread the word about National Mobility Awareness Month, said Tori Mistick, a social media consultant working with Keystone Coach Works.

Planners accepted written and video submissions from people who are overcoming mobility challenges, and those who earn the top votes will win a new wheelchair-accessible vehicle custom fit to their needs.

The awareness month aims to encourage people with disabilities to remain active and mobile and to develop awareness about transportation solutions for veterans, senior and others who might have trouble getting around.

Also an outdoor enthusiast, Mr. Sray helped start an event for fellow hunters who use wheelchairs.

In its 11th year, it's less about bagging a deer and more about getting out in the woods -- for many, the first time since their injury, he said.

This year's hunt is scheduled for the Oct. 19 weekend.

neigh_west - neigh_south

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944. First Published May 17, 2012 9:00 AM


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