Two members of the big-hearted team behind Arizona’s Vapor Wheels

Tom Reardon

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Leon Krzmarzick (L) and Lyle Rusanowski stand on either side of a happy client at the Vapor Wheels office in Arizona.Courtesy of Vapor Wheels.

By Tom Reardon / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

(Pinal County, AZ) Vapor Wheels Director of Marketing Ryan Baker says the wheelchair wheels market is ready for disruption and his company is primed to make a huge contribution.

While many people may never have to consider the importance of choosing the right wheel for a wheelchair, for the 2.7 million Americans who do use one and their families, having a company that offers both affordable price points and innovative style and durability is a huge plus.

Vapor Wheels, which was featured in a recent article regarding a recent partnership, is an Arizona-based company started by CEO Lyle Rusanowski, also of Tempe, Arizona’s Delta Technology, in 2020.

Baker joined the company in January of 2022. A veteran of the wheelchair industry, especially on the wheelchair sports side, Baker is also a wheelchair user. He suffered a spinal cord injury after a car accident the day after his high school graduation in 1991.

“It's been 32 years or so … well more than half of my life. I have a T6 injury and that means my injury is right above my sternum, so I don't have any stomach muscles. I got involved in wheelchair sports athletics, and I just kind of found myself in the industry,” says Baker.

Now 50, Baker was intrigued by Vapor Wheels after having several conversations with Stephanie Solares, who handles customer service for the company.

“I was interested in the wheel, primarily, because I got caught up in it because I was so excited, and it was a different offering other than Spinergy (a California-based wheelchair company). I wanted to learn a little bit more about the company, where they're based and what models they're going to be offering. I got a little technical, and Stephanie forwarded my emails to Lyle,” says Baker.

From there, Rusanowski invited Baker to come visit Vapor Wheels and soon after, Baker joined the team. Experience and expertise like Baker possess is invaluable to a new company whose goal is to make their way into a market that has been dominated by Spinergy for decades. The opportunity for Vapor Wheels is there, but there is more to the equation than just selling a lot of wheels.

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A selection of Vapor Wheels products.Courtesy of Vapor Wheels.

Rusanowski’s best friend, Billy (whose last name is being withheld out of respect for his privacy) from high school suffered a spinal cord injury and since then, the Phoenix-area entrepreneur and businessman has done as much as he could to help improve the lives of people who need wheelchairs for mobility.

“I watched (my friend) through the process of trying to rediscover who he was as a person and as a unique individual. He couldn’t do some of the things he used to do, and I watched him as he learned what he was going to do (after the accident). He’s been a technical partner of mine and an inspiration. I watched him rebuild a life that was actually richer than what he had before his accident,” says Rusanowski.

In conversation, the two friends determined that even though the Spinergy wheels, which use a proprietary technology and require specific proprietary tools to maintain and/or repair, were of great quality, there simply were not a lot of options in terms of how they could be used and how stylish they were.

This gave Rusanowski, who has been in manufacturing for over 30 years, the idea for Vapor Wheels, which can represent the user’s personality and interest at a more economical price point than their competition.

“I feel so ready for this. I am excited about the price points we can offer and sell products for. We also love standing on the pillar of us being designed and assembled in the United States (in Arizona, to be more specific), which our competition can’t say right now. This has been really fun,” says Baker.

So far, the response has been very positive, according to Rusanowski.

“For us, it’s really more about the quality-of-life change for our users, then changing the industry, which again is going to help change the user’s quality of life. It’s a profitable business for us at relatively low numbers, so it is exciting to be a part of it. There’s a lot of people out there looking for new products, something fresh and different,” says Rusanowski.

Putting their money where their mouth is, Vapor Wheels also works with Help Hope Live (Helphopelive.org), a national non-profit organization based in Pennsylvania, to make sure that there are opportunities for all wheelchair users to benefit from their products if possible.

Baker summed it up with the following thought:

“When you're sitting in the chair, people look at you from a profile, you know, from the side and oftentimes the wheel is just like the first thing that pops out. The customization that we can achieve and the price performance that we can give our wheels to customers for is something that will hopefully make the competition sweat a little bit.

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Tom Reardon is a Phoenix native and has been writing about events in and around Arizona for the last decade.

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