Login | August 20, 2019

Aspiring mechanic doesn't let rare health condition stop him

In this July 25, 2019 photo, Eric Rine, 18, a student from The Ability Center's Next Steps Summer Program, removes a wheel from a bus while working in the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) garage in downtown Toledo, Ohio. Rine, who has has spina bifida, is an aspiring mechanic. (Jetta Fraser /The Blade via AP)

The Blade

Published: August 13, 2019

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Inside the garage of the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Services, Eric Rine wheeled his wheelchair up to a service bus, took a drill out and effortlessly changed its tires.

It was business as usual for the 18-year-old, who was wrapping up his final day of a four-week program in which he performed mechanical work for the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority. The partnership was set up through The Ability Center's Next Steps program, which employs students at local businesses to build professional skills for their pursued careers.

The experience was life-changing for Rine, who graduated from Bowling Green High School and is off this fall to attend the University of Northwestern Ohio, a top-rated auto mechanic school according to thebestschools.org.

Rine lives and breathes cars. He credits his love for cars in learning how to count, after all.

"I learned my numbers by little Nascars, taking them out of little bins," he said with a laugh. "I love working on cars, I've been a car guy all my life."

Employees supervising Rine say he fit in as if he'd been working there for years, completing tasks and handling anything thrown at him with relative ease. But Rine's success, as has been the case throughout his whole life, calls for a little more grit and determination than most young adults.

Rine has spina bifida, a rare condition that affects the spine and causes mobility complications. He uses a wheelchair to get around but doesn't see it as a hindrance. Rine competed in sled hockey and participated in seated track and field in school, earning a scholar-athlete award in both sports. Athletics and his skills and abilities around cars have consistently lifted his confidence.

"There's nothing I can't do," he said. "I always figure out a way to do it."

Connor Briggs, TARTA's director of paratransit services, said Rine impressed him from Day 1.

"I don't oversee the maintenance department, but if it was up to me, I would hire him tomorrow if we could keep him on full-time," Briggs said. "It's good to see someone not let whatever physical ability they have hold them back. He's pursuing his dream and it's exciting to see someone go after it and not let anything get in the way."

Chris Graber, a mechanic with TARTA, worked with Rine the most throughout the program. He says the aspiring auto repairman needs little coaching.

"He was here punctual every day," Graber said. "He has all the capabilities to do the job. He has very little limitations. I was very impressed."

Paige Michalski, a teacher of 29 years and a job coach through Goodwill and The Ability Center, called the partnership "perfect for both sides," praising Rine's work ethic throughout the program.

"He does not think of anything as a barrier," Michalski said. "When I get here, he's already working early. I think he's going to be missed."

As for career goals, Rine says he's always thought of himself as a mechanic but sees his skillset potentially landing him as a floor salesman when he graduates college due to his knowledge of specs and the internals of cars. He hopes to either be driving race cars or working on them in 10 years.

His message to others with physical disabilities seeking to chase their dreams: "Just try to figure out a way to do it and just do it to the best of your ability. Never give up."


Information from: The Blade, http://www.toledoblade.com/