Beth Lutsch Was Born with 'Bum Legs,' So Her Dad Built Her a New Set of Wheels

updated 12/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Beth Lutsch couldn't keep up with the other kids as they darted in play around the quiet suburban streets of Hoffman Estates near Chicago. That's because Beth, now 8, was born with spina bifida, a spinal defect that left her lower body paralyzed. She seemed fated to spend her days wobbling about on crutches or confined to a wheelchair.

But today, Beth, strapped into a specially made, battery-powered go-cart, zips around at speeds up to 6½ mph. She can execute dazzling turns, bounce over curbs onto sidewalks and join the gang on half-mile treks to the neighborhood store for candy and ice cream. On family outings, with her parents riding bicycles, Beth likes to boast, "I can go faster than Mom and Dad."

Dad is the proud creator of Beth's mobility equalizer. Jim Lutsch, 36, who heads the data processing section of a Chicago savings and loan association, had no previous engineering experience. He first tried to modify several commercial carts but found them wanting. With help from friends and countless hours of tinkering in the garage, he hand built the low-slung, 110-pound Lutschmobile with push-button controls for forward, reverse and braking and a 10-mile range between rechargings.

"We don't have to worry about her not returning or being stuck in the grass. We treat her as a normal kid with a bum set of legs," explains Beth's mom, Pam, who finds it unnecessary to keep any closer tabs on Beth than she does on Beth's younger sister, Jenna, 6.

Jim has already sold a second vehicle to the family of a 10-year-old handicapped girl in Chicago. Three more are on order at $1,700 each. (Illinois deems his carts to be "electric wheelchairs" and thus requires no licensing.) "This is a mobile society," says Jim, "and you have a happier outlook when you move around. Beth is a happy, spunky kid—sometimes too spunky." She once tried to play stunt driver by doing "wheelies." Her startled dad promptly redesigned the cart, and henceforth for Beth there will be no more of that.

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