McCULLOM LAKE – Kerry Neff’s life changed forever June 3, 1991, when a driver ran him off the road. He crashed his motorcycle, leaving him with four unworkable limbs.
Neff wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Left a quadriplegic and forced to use the same manual wheelchair for the next 21 years, the lifelong McHenry County man now has a new lease on life because of his new motorized wheelchair.
Before the accident, Neff raced motorcycles on an amateur road racing circuit. He placed fourth in the Midwest, he said.
“I went from king to cripple, but now I’m king again,” Neff said.
His new wheelchair, painted lime green just like his racing motorcycle, allows him to get around more easily, and he takes full advantage of it. He’s often seen “bopping around the village.”
Before his new wheels, Neff, a classic-car enthusiast, would navigate his manual wheelchair from his McCullom Lake home to downtown Wonder Lake for car shows. It took him about three hours. He said he expects it will take a lot less time in his new machine, which he calls “The Beast.”
Neff recently was in the Fiesta Days parade, where he hung out with state Rep. Jack Franks and McHenry Mayor Sue Low.
Neff also took some time to speak with reporter Chelsea McDougall.
McDougall: Tell me about your accident.
Neff: I went off the road in 1991 in Hartland. A car ran me off the road. The guy at least had the decency to make the call to the cops to say where the accident happened and hung up.
My daughter and my wife drove past me. We were leaving my mother- and father-in-law’s house in Harvard and they drove past me. She said she felt weird. ... [My daughter] Lacey was 4 at the time. They got home and [Lacey] said, ‘We beat Daddy.’ She said, ‘No we didn’t.’ She just turned around to the area where she felt weird and the cop was finishing up the accident report. That’s one of those woman things, you know?
McDougall: What happened after?
Neff: The first eight months, I didn’t even want to get out of bed. ... I didn’t remember anything. I woke up in the hospital. That’s one of those godsend things. Block it out when bad things happen. ...
Then it got even harder to move my limbs, and I said, ‘I better start moving around a little more.’ So I went out. I went out to the driveway for the first time, and I said, ‘Oh, so this is life? Not so bad.’ Then I started getting out more.
McDougall: How do you deal?
Neff: I’m built Neff tough. I’ve got Neff-Navlyt [mother’s maiden name] blood. I’m old school. I have that caveman mentality. It drives my doctor and my daughter nuts. It’s like, cavemen didn’t have that stuff. I don’t like medicine. I grew up in the Tylenol days. ... I don’t want to be a rolling medicine cabinet. I just don’t like it. Forget it. I don’t go that way. I’m old school.
McDougall: It sounds like you have a lot of supporters.
Neff: I’ve got most of my family ... and my neighbors. Most of them can be here in a second. ... I’ve got good people around me.
McDougall: Tell me about your new ride.
Neff: It [cost] $20,176.93. I got it at the Scooter Store. I asked them, Will the thing jump the Fox River?
McDougall: Sounds like you haven’t lost the racing mentality.
Neff: It’s no different than road racing. ... This [goes] 6 miles an hour, but it’s the same result. You mess up, you go off the road, you tumble, break your neck again, you get down there, you’re out.
McDougall: You’ve got such a positive attitude. Do you feel pretty lucky?
Neff: Oh, yeah. It has been 21 years. I should have been dead. The reaper didn’t have a sharp enough sickle for me. Some people pity me, but I pity them because I’ve had nothing but quality time with my daughter and nieces and nephews.
The Neff lowdown
Who is he? Neff, a quadriplegic, just got a new motorized wheelchair.
Family: Daughter, Lacey Neff, 25; Lacey’s stepbrother, Jesse James Bonogofsky; and a large extended family.
Hometown: McCullom Lake.
Nicknames: Punk or Mad Max.
Fun fact: At one point, he grew a beard that went down to his belly.
Famous faces: He once met Walter Payton.