Athlete's custom wheelchair stolen just prior to competition

July 8, 2013 4:36:54 PM PDT
A reward is being offered to find a very important piece of equipment that was stolen from a local athlete. It's his wheelchair. He says someone stole it right out of his truck, and now he's making a plea in the hopes of getting it back.

A wheelchair is one of the last things you might think a thief would target, but that's exactly what happened to Zack Ruhl's custom sport wheelchair. Now the athlete just wants it back in time for him to travel to the National Wheelchair Softball Tournament with his team.

Most of the time, 23-year-old Ruhl gets around on a skateboard.

"I was born with a birth deformity, my legs didn't properly grow all the way," he said. "My legs were amputated when I was two, and I should have needed a wheelchair then, but I winded up getting a skateboard."

But a year ago, he discovered wheelchair sports.

"Football, softball, soccer, basketball," he said.

And just a month ago, he got a custom sport wheelchair after he and his mom saved up the $3,500 for it. It is lighter than an everyday wheelchair, faster and has wheels at an angle to make them easier to maneuver.

But on Saturday, thieves took it from Ruhl's truck while it was parked in front of a friend's house

"I had a cup of coffee with my buddy and then I came out. I started driving down the street a little bit, and I noticed it was gone," Ruhl said.

Ruhl and teammate Erik Mendez are sometimes competitors, sometimes teammates, but they're always friends.

"He's a great guy, and the intensity level, he definitely brings it. And he makes you work 10 times harder when you know he's on the opposite team," Mendez said.

They were set to travel to Chicago next month to compete in the wheelchair softball national championships. But now, the fundraising they're doing to pay for travel costs, some of that is going to pay for a new custom sport wheelchair.

"I would love this chair to come back, I would. It would be 10 times easier obviously to get this chair back. But if not, we have to do everything in our power to get the chair," Mendez said.

He called the Harris County Sheriff's Office and filed a report. Friends began a social media campaign to try and find the chair, but no luck.

The theft hasn't stopped Ruhl from working out, but he hopes they won't have to come up with the money for a new wheelchair.

"If somebody has it, I really would appreciate if they returned it," Ruhl said.

Even if Ruhl's family and teammates raise enough money to buy a new sport wheelchair, it wouldn't arrive in time for the national championships. He will borrow a wheelchair in the meantime.

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