Ernie Coleman’s Story- Living the Dream and Refusing to Slow Down!

Ernie Coleman has become a bit of a legend around ADA, not only because he has been one of our favorite customers for almost 10 years, but because he always has a great story to tell. He has recently purchased his 4th lowered-floor minivan from ADA Pasadena! Throughout the years he has owned a total of 7 accessible vans with BraunAbility conversions including a Ford, Chevy, Honda and his most recent purchase is a Toyota which he claims “drives like a Cadillac”.We got a chance to sit with him and talk a little about his history and relationship with ADA and Braun…

Ernie was 8 years old when he decided that his dream was to be a fighter pilot. He had gone to a Saturday matinee to watch the news reels, and made it his goal to one day be one of those pilots he admired so much.

Ernie married his beautiful wife Ann right out of high school. After high school, he attended Texas Tech where he was part of the ROTC program. Soon after graduating in 1961, he went into the Air Force in Alabama to fulfill his childhood dream. In the course of his career in in the Air Force he was deployed to several countries including France, Turkey, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Throughout his career, Ernie’s spirit of determination and resilience was evident. During pilot training in Alabama, he got hit with a squash ball and gravely injured one of his eyes. The doctor on base who treated him told him they’d have to take out his eye. An eye implant meant that Ernie could not be on flying status, which made a promotion to Wing Commander impossible. After two weeks in the hospital, his eye finally cleared and he was able to complete pilot training. Later in his career he developed cataracts and was grounded for a period of time. At the School of Aviation Medicine in San Antonio they then not only took care of his cataracts, but provided him with a contact lense for his injured eye. He went on to become the first pilot to fly jet fighters with a contact lense.

Ernie earned several titles while in the Air Force including F4 Systems Manager, Captain, Colonel and Wing Commander of the Mountain Idaho Base.

In 1982, however, Ernie’s life changed forever. While on a practice flight with his partner, their F111 plane experienced several mechanical issues which resulted in the difficult decision to eject from the plane. The hard landing from the ejection severely injured Ernie’s spinal cord and led him to be paralyzed from the chest down.

Nevertheless, his spirit of determination lived on. Ever since his injury, Ernie has had a wonderful outlook: “I don’t worry about the little things I can’t do, but I look at something I really want to do and figure out a way to make it happen.”

Being independent was, of course, a major goal after his rehabilitation in Idaho; and getting behind the wheel of a vehicle brings that feeling of independence. Ernie got his first accessible van in ’82. This van was adapted, surprisingly enough, at the Idaho State Prison. Ernie explained that back then the VA trained inmates to work on vans as part of an inmate work program. It was a Ford van with a Braun lift.

In 1985, Ernie got his first ever Tri-Wheeler to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. The Tri-Wheeler was invented by Ralph Braun, founder of the Braun Corporation, in 1962. It was always Ralph’s characteristic form of mobility, and Ernie’s too! Between 1985 and 2014, Ernie has owned 10 Tri-Wheelers. He’s familiarized himself so much with them, that he knows how to fix them. He even has a lift in his garage so he can work on his Tri-Wheelers when needed.

Ernie continued to live a life full of adventure. He has had snowmobiles adapted and admitted: “Going 70mph on a snowmobile is as close as it gets to 500mph on a jet.” He also enjoys fishing, gardening and driving four-wheelers. Mostly, he enjoys spending time with his wife, 3 children and 4 grandchildren. Without a doubt, Ernie whole-heartedly embodies our slogan “refuse to slow down in life”!

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Ernie! It’s always a joy when you and Ann visit us. We hope that you are enjoying your new Toyota and continuing your quest for adventures!



Posted on July 3, 2014 by Katie Larson