W. P. Carey School of Business
Classnotes typography
Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell (right) experiences the TerrainHopper with ASU alumnus Todd Lemay (BS Accountancy ’95)
Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell (right) experiences the TerrainHopper with ASU alumnus Todd Lemay (BS Accountancy ’95)
Alum paves pathways for people with disabilities
Todd Lemay’s gift of a TerrainHopper will enable disabled students to enjoy all adventures

odd Lemay remembers longing for snowless days. The weather constricted the Maine native in ways others couldn’t comprehend. That wasn’t all; steps robbed him of his freedom. Beaches did the same.

“Every house, every apartment, even restaurants — they all have steps in Maine,” he says.

Lemay was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a brittle bone disease that has led him to use a wheelchair for most of his life. He sometimes walked as a child, but that would only lead to more broken bones and more surgeries. He was tired of it in his teens. “I decided it’s not worth going through all the surgeries just so that I can maybe walk 20 feet on my own,” he says.

Lemay, 48, figures he’s suffered more than 80 broken bones — a figure that quickly climbs into the hundreds if he includes ribs. Those crack easily.

He doesn’t seek sympathy, though. Rather, he considers himself lucky.

“A lot of people out there are in much more difficult situations than I am in,” Lemay explains. “So the fact that I can take care of myself and do so much, those are all blessings.”

Arizona opened his eyes to many of them.

A whole new world
After one of his friends talked up Arizona and urged Lemay to tag along on a trip, it didn’t take long for him to fall in love with the Valley of the Sun.

“I was amazed at how flat everything was out here,” he recalls. “I fell in love with the weather, and I fell in love with how everything was so accessible. I felt a larger sense of freedom.”

Lemay landed at ASU in 1992, graduating three years later with a degree in accounting. He immersed himself in this work for some time before launching an IT management company.

And then a simple Google search led him to change careers.

Lemay was on the hunt for an all-terrain wheelchair and stumbled upon a company in the United Kingdom named TerrainHopper that was manufacturing electrically powered off-road mobility vehicles that can conquer the type of challenging terrain normal wheelchairs can’t. Yet the company wasn’t shipping to the U.S. — that is, until Lemay persuaded it to send him a TerrainHopper a year later.

For the first time in his life, when he returned to his summer home in Maine, he enjoyed beach trips in a way he only previously had in dreams.

“I didn’t have to have someone push me and set me in one spot and that’s where I would stay until they moved me,” he explains. “I can go out on the beach with my wife and hold her hand; I was never able to do that before. I love the ocean, and for my entire life, I’ve only been able to enjoy it from the end of the parking lot.

“It opened up a whole new world for me.”

Hiking has become one of Lemay’s favorite hobbies since he obtained a mobility vehicle. San Tan Regional Park is a short drive from his house, and he frequents it often with his wife, Letitia.

“You look at that park with hundreds of acres and dozens of trails, and with the normal wheelchair you could probably access maybe 2% of that,” he says. “When I got my TerrainHopper, we started going out and doing a different trail every weekend and it turns out that we can do about 95% of that park now.”

Open for business
Everywhere he went with his mobility vehicle, he was routinely stopped. The same question always came: Why is there not something like this in the U.S.?

So Lemay again pleaded with TerrainHopper, this time for an even bigger ask: He requested licensing, manufacturing, and U.S. distribution rights, insisting “that if they’re going to do something here in the U.S., I’m the right person to help them do that.”

Lemay opened his own shop in Tempe in 2017, replicating the work of his friends in Europe to create customizations that can accommodate almost every physical disability. TerrainHopper USA was born.

“We license the technology from TerrainHopper, so we don’t import anything from them. We actually manufacture everything from the ground up here in Tempe,” he says.

Lemay, who has donated several of these vehicles to nonprofits around the area, was featured in an article in the Phoenix Business Journal around the time he started full production last fall, prompting ASU President Michael Crow to offer congratulations in a handwritten letter.

Shortly after the new year, Lemay gifted a TerrainHopper — they start at $18,000 — to the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.