Miracle Wheels: The Story of a Mission to Bring Mobility to the World


How many PhD engineers does it take to give away 1.3 million wheelchairs in 94 countries? (One!)

Hell Freezes Over in India!
No problem! It’s 1974 in Cambridge, Mass., and Don Schoendorfer braces for the first question on his oral qualification exam for his engineering PhD at MIT. The brilliant professors on the committee begin with their best curveball:

“People mention that when they walk out onto the Golden Gate Bridge, they can hear humming. Could you please explain where that sound is coming from?”

Schoendorfer nailed it! And he nailed the follow-up questions about equations, first principles, and more. He writes, “By the time I was done answering every line of questioning from the committee members, my hands were covered in white chalk and the blackboard behind me, the one I’d been writing on, was filled with equations, drawings, and solutions.”

Fast forward. How did God orchestrate the journey of a shy introvert from Ashtabula, Ohio…to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology…to the burgeoning bio-medical field of blood cell separation in Southern California…to becoming the founder of a global-impacting nonprofit that has given the gift of mobility (free wheelchairs!) to more than 1.3 million people in 94 countries on five continents…and counting? You must read:Miracle Wheels: 
The Story of a Mission to Bring Mobility to the World

by Don Schoendorfer with R.C. George

Super Bowl Sidelight! In the book’s foreword, NFL Quarterback Nick Foles, the 2018 MVP of Super Bowl LII (his Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41–33), notes that an estimated 75 million people worldwide still need wheelchairs.

In this inspiring and very transparent book, Schoendorfer shares the poignant story of how his daughter urged her parents to return to church. In 1996, “over that first year attending Mariners Church, I went from being a ‘pedestrian Christian’—someone merely standing on the sidewalk and watching other people practice their faith—to wanting much more.”

After several failed attempts to serve others (tutoring, etc.), Don invites us into his conversation with God! Oh, my.

“I know you’re an introvert, God said. You don’t like people in general, I’ve really noticed that. You barely got through your psychology class in college. You’re not trained as an educator. You have no knowledge about being a mentor. And quite frankly, I’m discouraged that you’re not using the tools I gave you.”

“What tools would those be, Lord? 
I wondered.

“You’re an engineer, aren’t you? As an engineer, can’t you come up with something that would help my kingdom?”

In church, he was convicted by a four-sentence story, “The Fool’s Game,” shared by his pastor, Kenton Beshore. (Read more in this 2006 Los Angeles Times interview. And note to pastors: It’s content—not length—that makes your sermons impactful! For example, read about a sermon Juan Carlos Ortiz once preached. Classic!)

What happened? From prototype in 1999, to 100 wheelchairs in Don’s garage, to the journey with four pilot test chairs to India in 2001, Free Wheelchair Mission, the global nonprofit was launched. When was the last time you and three other volunteers hurdled the obstacles of airline schedules, visas, and the bureaucracy to travel to India—and checked medical supplies, medicine, and four wheelchairs as baggage? LOL! 

Fighting jet lag and in search of cold drinks during their first night in India, the team asked their hotel clerk to recommend a restaurant. The local establishment was named “Hell Freezes Over!” (The perfect metaphor for this 21-year journey!)

The India trip, for Don, was research-focused. He wanted to gather data to document and prove that his wheelchair prototype could be used in the developing world. “When I left California, this had been my expectation for this trip, to collect cold, lifeless data. But what I found instead were real people with real needs that I had the ability to meet face-to-face. I’d come to India with a paper on my mind. But I left India with people in my heart.”

Click here to view the 2½-minute video as Don Schoendorfer talks about his new book on ABC’s Good Morning America 3.

Update! According to Free Wheelchair Mission, through the generosity of their donors, “six containers of wheelchairs arrived at their destinations in Chile, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and the Philippines in January 2023. Soon, 3,178 people with disabilities in these countries will receive the gift of mobility.” To give the gift of mobility (one or more wheelchairs), visit FWM here.

Amazing! But, let’s back up a bit. Before FWM was incorporated as a nonprofit, checks began arriving from friends who shared Don’s passion for bringing the gift of mobility to the world. Generous checks! His garage was crammed with wheelchairs, but donors challenged him to purchase more materials for more wheelchairs. What to do?

One friend simply said, “Don, you need to start a nonprofit.” So what does this biomedical engineer, with a PhD in mechanical engineering from MIT, do? The same thing you’d do. He bought a copy of Nonprofit Kit for Dummies! (I actually reviewed this book in 2014. Click here.)

The rest is history—but not really. There’s much more to come. Don Schoendorfer quotes global stats that indicate 75 million people still need wheelchairs. He invites you to help like our mutual friend, George Duff (1931-2023) helped. With his family and local church, George Duff (read my tribute here) was a longtime cheerleader in the Seattle area for Free Wheelchair Mission. To listen to Don Schoendorfer’s comments at George Duff’s memorial service on Jan. 14, 2023, click here and fast forward to Minute 40.00 for Don’s seven-minute tribute. Schoendorfer notes seven qualities that Duff modeled. (That will preach!)

I gave my grandkids this book so—I pray—they’ll connect the dots between life experiences (XQ) and God’s call. 

To order from Amazon, click on the title for Miracle Wheels: The Story of a Mission to Bring Mobility to the World, by Don Schoendorfer. And thanks to Connie Salios (FWM board member) for sending me a review copy.

BONUS BOOK! While reading Miracle Wheels, I also read a new book on “XQ” (the third dimension of IQ and EQ). Don Schoendorfer could be the PhD poster boy for Experiential Intelligence: Harness the Power of Experience for Personal and Business Breakthroughs. Soren Kaplan, the author, defines XQ as “…the combination of mindsets, abilities, and know-how gained from your unique life experience that empowers you to achieve your goals.” (Read my review over at the Pails in Comparison blog.)

1) Who on our team and in our circle of family and friends should read Miracle Wheels? Who would be gutsy enough to share this book with selected donors of our favorite nonprofit? (Whoa! Would all their money then go to Free Wheelchair Mission—or would this God-story maybe inspire givers to be even more generous with more nonprofits?) John Pearson gave this book to his grandkids (all teenagers)—so they would learn how to connect the dots between life experiences (XQ) and God’s call. Whose life will you impact with this book? 

2) To drill deeper on XQ and how Don Schoendorfer leveraged his life experiences to create and implement the vision of Free Wheelchair Mission, read Experiential Intelligence: Harness the Power of Experience for Personal and Business Breakthroughs, by Soren Kaplan. Think back: what experiences growing up, in school, and in your early career days, prepared you for the work God has called you to do now and in the future? 

Mastering 100 Must-Read Books – Part 2: Books-of-the-Year

Book #16 of 100:
Necessary Endings

For your team meeting this week, inspire a team member to lead your “10 Minutes for Lifelong Learning” session by spotlighting Book #16 in Mastering 100 Must-Read Books

Necessary Endings: 
The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships 
That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward

by Dr. Henry Cloud

Books #6 through #21 spotlight 16 books that I named the Book-of-the-Year from 2006 to 2020. Necessary endings, writes Henry Cloud, “are the reason you are not married to your prom date nor still working in your first job.”
• Read my review.
• Order from AmazonNecessary Endings
• Listen on Libro (7 hours, 15 minutes)
• Download the 100 Must-Read Books list (from John and Jason Pearson)

Cloud lists 11 reasons why leaders and managers avoid necessary endings, including these four avoidance strategies:
   • “We are afraid of the unknown.”
   • “We do not possess the skills to execute the ending.”
   • “We have had too many and too painful endings in our own personal history, so we avoid another one.”
   • “We do not learn from them, so we repeat the same mistakes over and over.”

If your gut says it’s time to end a relationship, help an employee exit, dismount a dead horse, say farewell to a sacred cow, or drop a loser program, product or service, this “pruning book” will show you how.

30 - Experiential Intelligence

XQ – Experiential Intelligence
You’re familiar with IQ and EQ, but what about XQ? Read John’s review of the new book, Experiential Intelligence: Harness the Power of Experience for Personal and Business Breakthroughs, by Soren Kaplan. And check out other new book reviews on the Pails in Comparison blog. 

PEARPOD | TELLING YOUR STORY. How compelling is your story? Should your founder or CEO (or even a volunteer or customer) write your organization’s story? With self-publishing tools today and gifted writers, it’s faster than you think. (Read “You Should Write a Book” for several examples.) Contact Jason Pearson at Pearpod (Design, Digital, Marketing, Social).

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