This weekend, Death Guild Thunderdome set up at Wasteland Weekend for the first time. It was pretty awesome and I have lots of thoughts on that but …

On Friday night, I noticed a few folks in wheelchairs, pushed up against the dome from the outside, trying to see in while negotiating the elbows of the people around them. I began to invite them in; there is a bit of “sitting space”, reserved for crew members on break and friends of crew members, on the opposite side of the dome from where folks are working. I invited them to come sit in the “friends and family” section, where their view would be unobstructed. I invited one man in, but his wheelchair was one of those giant electric dealies, and too large to come in through our smallish triangles.

“But I’ll be ok,” he said. “These folks around me have been giving me a lot of room.”
“Ok, good.”
“But it sure would be great to try swinging from those bungees.”

I paused.

“Well, we can definitely get you set up with that. Why don’t you come back tomorrow night after fights?”

“I would love to try it, but then all these people will be staring.”

“No, no. They’ll be staring at the girls swinging from the other bungee.”

He agreed, and I introduced him to some of the crew who could help him navigate getting into a harness and into the dome once out of his chair.

The next evening, I looked for Dennis, but was disappointed not to find him. By the time I did see him, the fights were over, he was on the other side of the dome from where we’d spoken the previous evening, and was already in a harness. With the help of Thunderdome crew, he was lifted out of his chair and hooked into the bungees. Tentatively at first, with a wincher (person who works a gear at the side of the dome to raise and lower a fighter) working furiously to ensure that his feet didn’t bear too much weight, Dennis’ feet skimmed the ground.

“I can walk!”

I asked if he wanted to swing.

“I’m not sure…let me get a feel for it first.” So we gently bounced him up and down until he said he wanted to swing…and we helped him get real air. Then we handed him one of our padded weapons and let him hit us with it. For minutes, Dennis swung, giddy, and we alternately helped him and turned away so he couldn’t see our tears of joy. The crew was joyous, and so happy to help him experience this moment. Dennis’ partner pulled me aside and said “Thank you so much to you and your crew. He’s always wanted to know what it feels like to skydive, or bungee jump.”

As we helped him back into his chair he said he felt fantastic, that it was therapeutic for him. Felt so strange that he was thanking us, so I said…

“After 17 years of doing this, you just added new meaning to this for all of us. Thank you.”

The next day, we presented him with Thunderdome team-building weekend pins and a Thunderdome combatant dog tag.

We’ve done a few special, non-boffer-weapon-fight-related things in the Thunderdome. We’ve had weddings, suspensions, clowns…but Dennis stands with the woman who poured her daughter’s ashes into our dome as the two things that have imbued it with the most meaning (besides the feeling of creating a space for something like this with people you adore). Thank you, Dennis.

Dennis in the dome : https://youtu.be/HJA9Lmh9xkY (thanks to Dave for the capture)

Written by Marisa Lenhardt Patton, 29 September 2015.

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