It would be easy to say that paralysis has been Chad Raney’s biggest obstacle, that he has “overcome” his disability, found success despite being wheelchair-bound. It would be easy to reduce Chad’s life to “before” and “after” the three-wheeler crash that irrevocably injured his spinal cord. One could write off Chad’s mistakes, allowing him a “handicap” in life. One could characterize his achievements merely as proof that anything is possible, that barriers exist to be broken, that physical limitations are surmountable. Many will assume that Chad is inspiring by virtue of being a person in a wheelchair doing “normal” things. That is not why Chad is inspiring. Chad’s disability is a crucial part of his story, of course. Navigating a world built for able-bodied people is a challenge that Chad and other disabled people face daily. This is no small task. But Chad’s story is much more interesting than his paralyzing accident or his disability or any one element. The whole of his journey is far greater than the parts. “Nobody has ever asked me for my entire life story,” Chad said when he was approached by FSLM. He’d spoken on the parts but never the whole. This is the whole.
Chad was born in Texarkana, Texas. His father, Charles, owned Raney’s Flowers. His mother, Patsy, was a teacher. The seasons of her young-adult life were punctuated by the births of her children; intermittent throughout her teaching career were hiatuses she took to take care of her three babies: oldest, Christopher; middle-child, Chad; and youngest, Amanda. In 1983, she took her fourth and final hiatus, again to take care of her children, but this time the catalytic event was not a birth but a brush with death. One October afternoon, the school bus dropped 13-year-old Chad off at his house in the Dogwood area, as it did every day. His parents were still at work.He was not allowed to ride his new three-wheeler when his parents weren’t home, but he and neighborhood friend Alan Lane decided to take it out anyway. Chad drove the two boys down to Sugar Hill Bait Shop and left Alan to buy them chips and cokes. Chad rode around on the trails nearby, killing time, waiting for his friend to return with the snacks. When he saw Alan exit the store, he went to turn the three-wheeler back onto the pavement from the dirt road he’d been on. Alan was walking toward his friend with the chip bags and soda cans. It was late in the day; when he tilted his head up to take a drink, the sun blocked his vision. After a sip, he looked down, and Chad was gone. The ATV, when changing terrains, would not turn. Chad slammed on the brakes and was catapulted over the handlebars and down 10 feet into a ditch where landed on his head. “I just remember feeling like a bolt of electricity had gone through my body and then nothing at all,” Chad said. He tried to yell for help but couldn’t get anything out. He had broken his neck; he was paralyzed.
A neighbor drove up, saw the accident, and went home to call for help. Shortly after, Mr. Raney, returning home from work, arrived at the scene. The ambulance and the Channel 6 News crew weren’t far behind.
The doctor at Wadley Hospital knew that Chad needed a specialist. Airlifted by helicopter, Chad landed 16 hours after his wreck at the Dallas Rehabilitation Institute, where the team informed him and his parents that he needed surgery, but that it would have to wait until they could rebuild his lung capacity, which was very low. It would take at least a few days, maybe a week.
“I remember being in the hospital that night, and the respiratory therapist came in and told me the quicker I’d do the lung exercises, the quicker they’d be able to do surgery,” Chad said. “So I stayed awake all night and [did the lung exercises]. I remember crying and feeling something come over me, like a presence there that was guiding the whole thing. I honestly feel like God came into my life and said, ‘You’re gonna do this, and I’m gonna help you do this.’ The next morning, they told my dad that they were going to do surgery at 3 p.m.that afternoon. And he said, ‘Like hell you are.’ And they said, ‘Mr. Raney, there’s no medical explanation for what happened last night.’ The respiratory therapist told my parents that it usually takes three, five, seven days to build that lung capacity back up, but for me, it had happened overnight. They said they’d never seen anything like it, and that ‘there was someone looking out for Chad.’ It was a life-changing moment.”
The doctors used bone from the bone bank to repair what they could of Chad’s spine. The surgery was the easy part; afterward was the in-patient rehab, which took six months of Chad’s thirteenth year of life.
He didn’t feel cheated out of his adolescence, though; Chad felt lucky. “I never went through any major depression because, on the other side of that ditch, there were a couple of inches of water, and I could have very easily drowned,” Chad said. Most of Chad’s months in rehab was spent doing hard physical work to reteach his body to function, but he also made the best of being in the big city of Dallas, attending “some of the best concerts of [his] life,” including The Police, Duran Duran, Yes, 38 Special, and on. He’d always enjoyed music, often spending evenings in the living room with his dad watching Austin City Limitson T.V., but what was an interest before the accident grew into a passion after. He could no longer play the sports he once loved; he couldn’t go swim at the Racquet Club; there were a lot of things he could no longer do. But he could still listen to music. “I remember lying in the hospital after I had my surgery, and my brother put a Walkman over my ears, and I remember everything just went away,” he said. “It was my escape. It became an outlet for me.”
Chad returned to Pine Street Middle School the following year for eighth grade. All of his classes were upstairs, so he completed his work in the library. He wore a body jacket and a plastic brace meant to prevent scoliosis. “It was so freaking hot and always pinched me in the side,” he remembered. He developed scoliosis anyway and underwent surgery to have rods put in his back. “I always felt like the Bionic Man, or Humpty Dumpty. Not sure which one,” he said.
In high school, while his friends were driving sports cars and trucks, Chad was driving an adapted vehicle, which he named the “Good Times Van.” And while his former football buddies were working out, he was doing physical therapy. His goal was to walk across the stage to receive his diploma at graduation. He succeeded—and then never walked again. “Walking wasn’t a realistic priority for me,” he said. “Walking meant getting somewhere and then being worn out and plateauing and not being able to move past that. I wanted to live my life.”
So Chad chose to use a motorized wheelchair. He was shamed somewhat by his medical team, who thought he should use a manual chair to keep his upper body strong, but he didn’t listen, and as a result, he had more energy to enjoy life—and he saved his shoulders from the almost-inevitable injury that occurs after prolonged use of a manual chair. “I can do 10 times more stuff in a power wheelchair than I can in a manual wheelchair,” he said.
After graduation, Chad enrolled at Texarkana College, not because he didn’t want to leave Texarkana but because he was terrified to. “I was scared to death of going off by myself somewhere,” he said. He had relied on the care of his mom for the last five years. He told himself that he would finish his basics at TC and then transfer. One day, when friend Joel Wyatt was home from college during a break, the two went to the movies to see Dead Poets Society. “On the way there, Joel said, ‘Chad, you really need to think about going off to school because if you wait another year, by the time you get into the groove of college, you’ll be graduating. You’ll miss the whole college experience.’ I hadn’t thought about that,” Chad said. The next morning, inspired by Joel’s words and Robin Williams’ “seize the day” message in the film, Chad told his mom that he was transferring to the University of North Texas. Chad began phone-hunting for Denton apartments. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act, so he expected it would be hard to find an accessible place to live. However, the first person he got on the phone was an apartment owner who himself was in a wheelchair. He had intentionally built accessible units, and while they were normally full due to low supply, one happened to be vacant. Chad drove to Denton the next day to sign the lease.
Chad’s time at UNT was typical: “I had a blast, drank too much beer, joined a fraternity, made some lifelong friends, just like every other kid in college,” he said. “Going out, I was always the guy buying everybody a beer. I ran up credit cards, had way too much fun, and ended up in credit card hell.” To save money, he moved back home and finished his degree at what is now Texas A&M-Texarkana. “You really got a direct rapport with your teachers there,” he said. “I had some great professors, and I really learned a lot.” He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business.
After graduation, Chad decided he wanted to go into sales, and thinking, “’I’ve been in a wheelchair for 11 years; I can sell wheelchairs.’” He rolled into Marshall’s Home Health Care, a medical supply store that was across the street from his dad’s florist shop, and was hired on the spot. “I really enjoyed doing what I did; I just didn’t agree with the owner,” he said. “The day I left off their parking lot, she told me, ‘We’re not a perfect company. Go found your own perfect company.’ So I made up a business plan and came up with a name for a company: CareChoice Home Medical Supply.” He was 24 years old.
Chad admits that CareChoice was “far from perfect,” but he is proud of what he built: a company with commitment to personal service, and, even greater, a community of disabled people. CareChoice hosted all sorts of events for wheelchair users, like a wheelchair tennis clinic, among other things. “We were focusing on the ability and not the disability,” he said.
After four years in business, Chad was ready for something bigger. “I didn’t want to be known as the guy in a wheelchair, selling wheelchairs, all about wheelchairs. I wanted to do more.” he said. In 1998, United Medical Company offered to buy him out. A month later, Chad was driving down Summerhill Road when a car pulled out in front of him. He swerved to miss it and wrapped his van around a pole. He looked down to see both of his legs shattered, his kneecap broken, and his foot facing backwards. He was in the hospital for a month and in outpatient rehab for the next four. “That was harder for me than breaking my neck,” he said, “because I’d been independent, and then somebody kicked the chair out from under me.” For the five months he was unable to work, Chad dove into the internet and began what would become a lifelong hobby: “I don’t collect baseball cards; I collect domain names,” he said. He began purchasing all sorts of website URLs: powerscooters.com, liftchairs.com, even christmasshopping.com(which he lost when he forgot to renew; “That name is probably worth $50,000 now,” he said). He was always coming up with business ideas, but instead of living in a notebook, his ideas were catalogued in a list of purchased domain names.
His sister, Amanda, was moving to San Marcos to attend Texas State University, so, between jobs and without anything to do, he went with her to help her find a place to live. While in the area, they went to the Gruene Historic District of New Braunfels to watch Texas-country musicians Charlie Robinson, Bruce Robinson, and Jack Ingramrecord an album at Gruene Hall. Chad fell in love with Gruene Hall, the town, and the Texas music scene.
“Why don’t I just sell my house and move down here, and we can share a place?” he asked his sister. They found an apartment on the Guadalupe River. She went to school, and he went to shows. He was ready to ignite a business idea he’d been tossing around. He was ready to register one of his many domains: lonestarmusic.com. The goal was to create a virtual hub for Texas musicians and fans to congregate, buy and sell music and merchandise, and communicate with one another. “I didn’t know anything about music or e-commerce,” he said, “but I knew I loved music, and I wanted to build community where there was none. I’d built a community of people with disabilities; now I wanted to build a community with these musicians.”
Chad was attending concerts, handing out business cards, and receiving boxes of CDs to sell on consignment. He worked out of his house and a storage building, receiving online orders and shipping things out one at a time. Before long, Lone Star Music had amassed an email database of over 70,000 people all over the world. The social commerce site filled a need for virtual community before the social-media boom occurred. It was featured in multiple publications, including Southern Living; was nominated for “Best Music Website” at SXSW; was named “Best E-Commerce Music Site” by TechTV; and honored by Texas State University’s Institute for The History of Texas for its support of Texas music. He was even awarded the Entrepreneurship Award by Governor George Bush.
In 2003, the company expanded to include a brick-and-mortar store down the street from Gruene Hall, and soon after, they launched a print publication, Lone Star Music Magazine. Over a decade, Chad met and worked with countless Texas musicians—his heroes. Randy Rogers and Sunny Sweeney were college interns in his office and he financed Ryan Bingham's album Dead Horses. Bingham would go on to win an Oscar and a Grammy for "The Weary Kind" from the soundtrack to Crazy Heart.
But Chad wasn’t making much money, and he was exhausted. “I got burned out, even on music, which was my passion,” he said. “A friend of mine recently told me, ‘It’s not that you hop around. You work so hard and hyper focus on an idea that you burn out.’”
At the same time, the world was seeing two major shifts: one in technology (see: the release of the iPhone), and one in economics (see: the crash of the stock market). Chad saw the writing on the wall, and sold Lone Star Music. “I felt like I’d sold a child. I went through a mourning process for a year. Then I was speaking to a group in Wichita, Kansas and ran into Lyle Lovett. His tribute album to Texas Singer Songwriters was my initial inspiration behind it all. I thanked him for the inspiration and it suddenly gave me a sense of closure." he said.
He thought about becoming a real estate agent but figured that, without the ability to climb stairs, that was an unrealistic dream, so he decided to sell insurance, beginning as a Farmers’ agent and then buying an Allstate agency. "It just wasn't my deal" He sold his agency.
Chad’s next venture was trying to start an app company called Stoked Mobile. The app would allow artists to put music out directly to consumers, who would pay a subscription fee. “It didn’t work,” Chad said. “I couldn’t get it done. Another failure. But Spotify did what I could not."
Chad started writing a book, Brandaholic. It didn’t take off. He started a speaking career, giving his speech, “Life’s a Detour: Drive On” all over the country. He spoke about his past. "I wasn't speaking about my past. I was stuck in my past. I needed to move forward but felt stuck."
He moved to Fort Worth, built websites for others and worked for an energy company. One of his sales calls led him to the home of an old college friend. The house was a giant, multimillion-dollar structure. “And here I was, trying to sell him electricity,” he said. “I felt like such a failure.”
“I just remember being lost in the desert for two years, not knowing what I wanted to do, what I could do,” he said. “What I did know was that internet marketing and social media were the future.”
Chad returned to Texarkana and obtained a real estate license, along with two portable wheelchair ramps, which live in the back of his van to this day. He believed that his sphere of influence and experience with internet marketing and social media were greater than his physical limitations. He became a RE/MAX agent, sold 35 houses in six months, and was named Rookie of the Year in the State of Texas. He sold 65 houses the second year but knew he had to build a team to risk burning out once again. In 2015, founded the Chad Raney Team and joined Keller Williams Realty. "Keller Williams model is based around teamwork. They had the systems and training to help us grow. Eleven others had approached KW about opening in Texarkana and they never felt like they were the right fit. I was honored that we made the cut." His success with KW has him sharing his story once again but this time with purpose and intention. Speaking on overcoming limiting beliefs and leveraging technology like Matterport, the 3D virtual tour camera system which allows users to immerse themselves in the home and which compensated for Chad’s need to get upstairs.
In addition to his Real Estate team over the past year Chad has launched a video series called "Trade Local" a series of online videos that feature local businesspeople in Texarkana. "I wanted to take the focus off of me and tell other businesses stories." The physical obstacles Chad has faced in his wheelchair pale in comparison to the lessons he’s been taught throughout his many careers. “Someone once asked my mom, ‘Does it bother you that Chad’s done all these different things in his life?’ My mom said, ‘No, I’m proud of him because he had the courage to take a chance and experience life. It’s given him a world of knowledge.’ I’ve made more mistakes than I have successes,” he said, “but I’ve learned from them all.”