Wheelchair User Makes SCCA History with Hand Controls
Air Force veteran Karah Behrend is a professional rally driver and Rebelle Rally alum.
Karah Behrend is a fierce and determined Air Force veteran, and as of the end of March, she’s also the first female with a disability to receive a license from the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). She participated in her very first rally drive in 2019 with the Rebelle Rally, and she's looking forward to her inaugural SCCA race in Dallas in two weeks.
The Phoenix, Arizona resident uses a wheelchair, and quite well as a member of a “murderball” team, also known as wheelchair rugby. She was the first woman on the Oscar Mike team and has actively helped the league garner attention for others like her. And when she’s behind the wheel of a car as a rally driver, she’s just as aggressive and just as competent. Oscar Mike means “on the move” in military language, and that suits her perfectly.
Behrend joined up with the Air Force right after high school in 2011 and was trained as a communications signals intelligence analyst. She had military service in her blood and was planning on a long career, but a surgical procedure in 2015 unlocked a hell called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSD CRPS). It’s reportedly one of the most agonizing afflictions for humans and there is no known cure. Behrend started to lose the use of her legs, and three years later, she was injured in a car crash; the disease made its way into her spinal column. She started using a wheelchair and retired from the Air Force.
“I was in the Air Force and was laterally transferred to the Chair Force,” Behrend jokes.
Irreverent jokes are part of her vibrant personality; they are one of the ways Behrend deals with the challenges she faces with her neurological system and constant, unrelenting pain.
A few weeks ago, the newly-minted SCCA driver participated in the Wrench Rally, an 1800-mile competition that launched from Houston this year. At the end of the rally, many of the drivers donate their car to JC Supercars in Phoenix, which ensures that the cars are in good working order and hands them over to single moms in need. Behrend has been on the receiving end of donated cars and was ecstatic to give her hand-controlled 2013 Chevrolet Sonic to a parent who needed help.
“The Wrench Rally is all about giving back to the community and helping change someone’s life with the independence a good reliable car can bring,” she said in a Facebook post.
The Rebelle Rally ignited Behrend’s desire to do more rally driving in 2019. Fellow veteran Rachael Ridenour was looking for a partner for the Rebelle when she ran across a video Behrend had posted while out mudding with a friend. Ridenour asked Behrend to join her on a team and the two worked with Mitsubishi to fit an Eclipse Cross with hand controls that wouldn’t supersede the traditional foot pedals. That way, both could drive and both could navigate interchangeably. Impressively, they finished second in their class on their first time out as a team.
This woman is in incredible pain every day, and she still manages to find ways to feed her need for speed and give to others. She has always had an attraction to adrenaline-fueled activities, and has tried skydiving, horseback riding, climbing, scuba diving, and surfing. Now she’ll be racing side by side with people who are driving with the foot pedals, and I have no doubt she’ll wring out her car as best as she can.
I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins in her first SCCA race in Dallas. Go, Karah, go.
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