Vermont Veterans' Home resident faces fear of riding lawn mower again, improves health


BENNINGTON >> Brushing teeth, driving a car or mowing the lawn are simple tasks for most people, but that hasn't been the case for Greg Winslow.

He spent his life mowing lawns around Bennington, particularly at schools. After serving in the Army and developing anxiety and depression, Winslow became an introvert while at the Vermont Veterans' Home (VVH).

"It's like being in a deep dark cave and you can't get out," he said. "The one thing is, is you can't give up."

About six months ago he expressed to VVH staff that he wanted to ride on the lawn mower again. Occupational Therapist Jerry Durgin said Winslow would have to learn how to use his mechanical chair before he could drive the mower.

"He did everything I asked him to and more. He's continued to," Durgin said. "Everything that we've talked about and worked on so that he could pass the assessment to use this chair in the facility, he passed all the tests with flying colors. If anyone deserves it, it's him."

In time, Winslow was in the chair maneuvering in and out of cones and through tight spaces. The reason he didn't use it — for about a year — was because he was afraid of bumping into things, especially in his small bedroom.

The first time he got on the mower — in June — his medical team was following him on all sides. Winslow also had to wear a helmet and knee pads to reduce his risk of injury, said Ailish Hazen, VVH registered nurse and nurse manager.

"I got anxiety and depression real bad, but once I get on that mower it goes away," Winslow said.

"It's therapeutic," Durgin said.

In his life, Winslow has been in many car accidents and survived four motorcycle accidents. He has wondered how he's still alive. His next dream is to get back on the bike. His team thought that might take a little more practice.

"People take it for granted, how their yards look," Winslow said. "They shouldn't. I mowed the trailer park I lived in, too. I mowed the hill straight up. People shouldn't speed up. When they go slow, it looks better."

Social Worker Asa Morin said that before Winslow rode the lawn mower, he complained about back pains and how anxious he was. Once he started riding, all the pain disappeared.

The progress Winslow has made in his three years of residency at the VVH has inspired others to chase their dreams. Hazen said some residents want to go for a hike or go to a Boston Red Sox game. This year they incorporated kayaking into resident programs.

"He was the one this summer that really got the ball rolling for everything. We're just starting the whole project, so we're hoping to move forward. He'll be our picture man of the whole movement," Hazen said.

Winslow has mowed the lawn a few times and plans to again before it gets too cold.

"This is the personality that we never saw before we got him back into this chair. He was quiet, introverted," Durgin said. "When you get his confidence back and his mood turned around, he's a different person. That's what everyone around here really enjoys."

— Contact Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471.


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