Years after serving in the Persian Gulf and retiring from service, U.S. Navy Veteran Lonn was struck by a drunk driver on his way to work. The accident left him a tetraplegic with only one arm and one leg. Now Lonn is using his experiences to improve the lives of others — and soon, to start a business.
Lonn has lived a long, happy and productive life since the accident. He has worked numerous jobs, studied computer science, earned a degree in education and raised a family. Nothing has ever stopped Lonn from doing what he sets out to do.
“When I first got hurt, they gave me a litany of things that I would never do again,” Lonn said. “They told me, ‘You’re never going to walk. You’re never going to run. You’re never going to dance. You’re never going to do this, that, and the other thing.’ Among that was fishing, and I loved to fish.”
Initially “bummed,” Lonn set out to find a way to fish with just his one injured hand. He created a device that could be attached to his chair and that he could cast and reel with one hand. Lonn believes this device could enable people with any number of disabilities to fish, but that it also has potential for any angler dealing with limitations.
“It could be made for a person to sit in a lawn chair and hook it onto their lawn chair and fish with,” Lonn said. “You’ve maybe got a little kid running around, and you want to keep tabs on little Johnny or Janie, and you want to fish. So, you can fish with one hand and make sandwiches with the other.”
Lonn has used his device for years and always received questions, compliments and even offers to purchase it. It wasn’t until Lonn enrolled in Paralyzed Veterans of America’s 8-week Disabled Veterans Self-Employment Program that he began to think bigger.
“I was talking to [PVA Veterans Career Program Director] Charles McCaffrey about this, and he said, ‘That is your business model. You need to patent that and get a licensing agreement on it, and then you’re done.’”
Since enrolling in the Disabled Veterans Self-Employment Program, Lonn has learned about accounting, marketing, and raising capital for his business venture. He has also been connected with partners in the small and Veteran-owned business space, and had the opportunity to pitch his business for a start-up grant provided by Wells Fargo.
“I’m so blown away at how much it has given me, how much I’ve learned in this class,” Lonn said. “What actually sells this class is Charles. He really does a phenomenal job. He put me in touch with the lawyer and put me in touch with the patent attorney. He’s outstanding. I really would not have done this if it hadn’t been for him.”
Lonn credits the Disabled Veterans Self-Employment Program for giving him the resources, information, and reassurance he needed to embark on this new journey. He believes that having his own patent and business could provide for his family for generations to come.
“If I can get this finished and have it become a source of income, I can pass that on to them,” Lonn said. “And that’s my purpose for doing this, so that I would be able to take care of my loved ones.”
If you or someone you know is interested in enrolling in PVA’s Veterans Career Program, please reach out to VeteransCareerProgram@pva.org.