Thomas Thomas, a physically-disabled Marine Corps veteran, is now “on patrol” as “Sergeant Segway,” the newest goodwill ambassador for unique, non-profit Morgan’s Wonderland.
Outfitted in a special, military-style uniform, Sergeant Segway zooms around in an ALLY chair, an adapted, seated version of a Segway personal transporter. He appears mainly on Friendship Fridays, which include meet-and-greet events with celebrities such as Paralympic athletes and TV personalities, plus the interactive “The Magic of Friendship” puppet and magic show. He greets guests, poses for pictures and generally ensures “good order and discipline” at the world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment.
Sergeant Segway is scheduled to make a special appearance at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 19, at the Morgan’s Wonderland Event Center during the South Texas Veterans Health Care System’s Welcome Home celebration for uniformed-services members returning from deployments.
“San Antonio is Military City USA, so it’s a true delight to see Thomas assume the role of Sergeant Segway and interact with guests young and older,” says Ron Morander, Morgan’s Wonderland general manager. “He always carries with him a twinkle in his eye and a great sense of humor. Moreover, his inspiring, real-life story serves as an example of courage, grit and determination for us all.”
Born in East Chicago, Ill., and raised in Hammond, Ind., Thomas enlisted in the Marine Corps in February 1968, earned the nickname “T2” and headed for the Vietnam conflict in July 1968. After 33 days in country, he suffered a 50-caliber gunshot wound to the upper thigh and had to be airlifted out. He spent three years in the hospital, endured 23 surgeries and ultimately underwent amputation of his leg at age 23.
Undaunted, he learned how to snow ski at a camp for amputees, competed in the Handicapped National Championships in 1980 at age 33 and won both gold and silver medals in downhill skiing. Also, during a 33-year career with Xerox Corp., he was granted a six-month leave of absence in 1976 to teach skiing to amputees and children with multiple sclerosis in Winter Park, Colo.
In 2013, Thomas was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, but after a long battle, he’s now cancer-free. Yet long-term treatment made it almost impossible for him to stand or walk for extended periods. Last November, the non-profit Segs4Vets organization awarded him an ALLY chair, making it possible to be ambulatory again and also become Sergeant Segway.
“We take great pride in welcoming veterans and their families to Morgan’s Wonderland,” said Gordon Hartman, founder of The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation that since 2005 has pursued initiatives like Morgan’s Wonderland to benefit the special-needs community. “It’s truly heartwarming to see veterans, especially physically-challenged veterans, have fun with family and friends in our barrier-free environment of fun and inclusion.”
Ultra-accessible™ Morgan’s Wonderland, now in its ninth season, has attracted more than 1.3 million guests from all 50 states and 69 other countries. The colorful theme park features more than 25 attractions including wheelchair-accessible rides, playscapes, gardens, an 8-acre catch-and-release fishing lake, 575-seat amphitheater, picnic area and rest areas. Last fall, Morgan’s Wonderland was proclaimed “Park of the Year” in the prestigious 2017 Golden Ticket Awards sponsored by Amusement Today, an internationally-known publication that has covered the amusement industry for the past two decades.
Now open for the summer season, new Morgan’s Inspiration Island splash park earned the Leading Edge Award from the World Waterpark Association for cutting-edge design and revolutionary waterproof wheelchairs. In addition, readers of USA Todayvoted Morgan’s Inspiration Island as best new water attraction of 2017 in the newspaper’s 10Best competition.
Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island are located in Northeast San Antonio at 5223 David Edwards Drive, a half-mile west of IH 35 at the intersection of Wurzbach Parkway and Thousand Oaks Drive. More information including operating schedules, admissions and special events can be found at www.MorgansWonderland.com.