Oregon sisters roll out customized walker

COOS BAY — Adjustable, collapsible, customizable — this isn't your grandpa's walker.

Coos County sisters Sydney and Lindsey Swing, founders of Swing Mobility LLC, are rolling out a new product that they hope will — in the words of the fledgling company's self-appointed Director of Forward Planning — "revolutionize the mobility-aid industry."

The upstart's first product is The Great American Explorer ($1,150 for a basic model). If the name suggests a luxury Winnebago, it's because this walker features upgrades not common on conventional mobility aids — including large pneumatic tires (12 inches rear, 8 inches front) for off-road walkabouts.

Plus, the sisters say, it's pretty cool looking.

"It's intended to get people out of the house in safety, dignity and comfort," said Sydney, 25, the director of forward planning.

"And style," added Lindsey, 21, the CEO and CFO. In an industry not exactly known for flair, Swing Mobility aims to appeal to disabled youth and adults — plus fashion-conscience seniors — with these jazzed-up strollers.

In other words, "no tennis balls," Sydney said.

Lindsey, a University of Oregon business major, was inspired after reading an article about faulty mobility aids causing some 47,000 injuries a year and immediately began sketching ideas for a safer product.

The pair also found that few devices exist for mobility-impaired youths and that their product could help people with various ailments, such as junior arthritis.

"Getting into this, we didn't even know that existed," Lindsey said.

One potentially lucrative target market: Disabled veterans.

"When they come home, they don't want to use their grandma's walker," Lindsey said.

The Swings did some field research, asking elders and disabled people about what they liked and — most importantly — didn't like about their "rollators," as they're called in the industry.

"The problems became apparent pretty quickly," said Sydney, a UO philosophy major.

They said people often griped about grips causing pains in their wrists.

The sisters remedied this problem by extending a second set of grips outward, protruding at an upward angle. This gives folks the option of steering the device with the padded forearm rests, alleviating pressure on the wrists. Or, users can adjust the handlebars to push the walker with the conventional grips. The Great American Explorer also features a padded seat cushion, raised higher for in-and-out ease, and dual hand brakes for added safety. It's collapsible for convenient storage.

The sisters say their company differs from their competitors in that Swing Mobility encourages personalization. Multiple frame colors are available, and clients are invited to trick out their walkers. Taking their rollator for a spin through malls turned heads. Some would approach them and ask, "Please, do you have a business card?" said Sydney, who lives in Coos Bay.

Others remarked that it looked like a shiny new bike.

There's a reason for that:

"It's amazing what a person can build with bicycle parts," said Alan Moe, owner of Moe's Bikes in North Bend. He provided input on the prototype's design. It's built of bicycle frame tubing.

"The whole project was kind of fun," Moe said. "From the ground up we watched it grow."

UO business professors are also impressed. The Swing's project won the university's Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship Venture Quest earlier this year. That their parents, Richard and Brenda Swing of Coquille, are proud goes without saying.

Their girls have been entrepreneurs from the git-go, first getting their toes wet in the business world selling homemade Christmas cards. They were only 9 and 5 years old at the time and made an impressive $500.

From there, they went on to become junior food reviewers for an Orange County newspaper, gaining notoriety as the "Food Dudes," Brenda Swing said.

She's confident their daughter's company will take off.

"They've got a solid thing going that will help a lot of people," she said, adding that her daughters have always thought outside the box.

"These kids are smart," she said. "They think like business people. They think forward."

For now, Swing Mobility is home-based, and its products, which are individually assembled in Coos, Douglas and Lane counties, are available only online at http://swingmobilityaids.com.

The sisters are applying for a loan and envision a facility and employees.

"We want to keep it hand- and locally crafted," Sydney said.

They're currently at work on two more models, the Kids' Cruiser and the Explorer Sport. Swing Mobility will participate in the Parkinson's Resource Organization's annual conference April 8 and 9 at Valley River Inn in Eugene.

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