Story and photos by Johanna Huckeba
Ty Kachanuk grew up working with his dad on cars in their family garage, but unlike most kids, Ty never stopped.
“It entails getting dirty, hot, and sweaty,” Ty said of his job in a hot rod shop.
In 2001 Ty’s dad, Mark Kachanuk, opened Precision Hot Rod, an auto restoration and repair shop. Ty helped around the shop in between other jobs he worked after finishing high school. On Christmas Eve 2007 Ty was in a motorcycle accident where he sustained a T-3 spinal injury, causing paraplegia. After spending most of his life gaining skills in physically demanding trades, Ty suddenly felt limited in his career options.
Little by little, Ty got more involved in the shop, helping with small tasks here and there. Gradually, his dad encouraged him to take on bigger projects to find out what he was capable of.
“He was always pushing me to make the best of my disability- to push myself, to see what I could achieve,” Ty said about his dad. “So he was always giving me harder and harder projects every time, telling me that there was no reason I couldn’t do it- just try and put in the effort.”
Ty described getting involved in the shop again like the rehabilitation process all over again; a series of failures until he started to get it right and figure out how to do things in a way that worked for him.
“It was definitely a hard transition,” Ty said. “But like anything in life, ifyou want it bad enough and you try hard enough, you’re eventually going to succeed at it.”
Today, Ty works in the shop full-time as a welder and fabricator. For the sake of convenience, he uses a power chair in the shop, even though he uses a manual chair in the rest of his life.
“Having a T-3 (spinal injury) in a manual chair, your stability is pretty edgy, and I have high spasticity, so you never know when your legs are going to spasm. Dealing with painted vehicles and expensive parts, I wouldn’t want to be carrying a part around and drop it,” Ty said. “So I use a power chair in the shop because when you stop, your chair locks in place, and you’re stable.”
Ty spends a lot of his time welding for the custom parts needed to do many of the modification and restoration orders they get in, and made light of what it’s like being a welder with paraplegia.
“I catch on fire daily when I’m welding because the sparks fly and they fall down into my shoe, and when I take my shoe off at the end of the day, my socks have holes in them because the whole time my feet were on fire and I didn’t know because I can’t feel my feet.”
As anyone knows who has experienced it, working in the family business can be challenging.
“It’s definitely different working for your dad…it’s not like working for just any employer,” Ty said.
Last March, Ty’s dad was diagnosed with cancer; a tumor was found on his spine that could have caused paralysis. He has since been through one round of chemo, and will soon be starting the next round.
“Being able to help my dad and be there for him through fighting this cancer… it’s something that I’ll always remember and always have. Even when he’s gone, I’ll have the memories of working with my dad every day.”
Ty, now a father of three girls, hopes to take over the family business one day and continue their vision for the shop. Ty didn’t let his disability define his career. He hopes other people with disabilities won’t give up their passions either. Instead, he encourages others to find a way to make their dream possible in a way that works for them.
“Never let the disability get the best of you. Always continue to pursue your dreams and your hobbies. I know it’s hard, there are going to be obstacles…You just have to be able to see around the obstacles and make it happen.”
Johanna Huckeba is a journalism major at Arizona State University focusing on photography and documentary studies. She lives off of iced coffee, enjoys looking at notebooks at Barnes & Noble that she can’t afford, and spending time outside in places where it doesn’t feel like you’re on the surface of the sun. When she’s not at work taking photos, she’s probably out taking photos.