Don't Rile Rolling Rambo
Never mind that to do so Scanlon would have had to fetch his wheelchair from the backseat. Now 35, Scanlon has been a paraplegic for 26 years. He is also a master black belt in kung fu and, lately, a budding thespian. In the April 19 NBC TV-movie, Revolver, Scanlon, cast after being spotted in an episode of the cop series 21 Jump Street, plays a paraplegic (name: Wheeler) who teaches a newly disabled CIA agent (Robert Urich) the finer points of handling a wheelchair. Scanlon also served as Urich's stunt double and wheelchair instructor. With typical pugnacity, he recalls one scene in which he trips a pickpocket with his chair. "Trip him?" Scanlon asked incredulously. "I said, 'Let's tear an arm off or something!' "
His colleagues were impressed by his attitude. "Hey, whoever thought 10 years ago that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be so big?" asks Urich. "Ron Scanlon is the kind of guy that can break the barriers."
Even as a child, Scanlon had a fearless nature—and it led to catastrophe. Growing up in Upland, Calif., 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, Ron was 9 on the hot summer afternoon he decided to play with the hose while his mother, Dorothy, and stepfather, G.W. Broadway, enjoyed a siesta. Because the hose was stuck under the wheel of Dorothy's Ford Falcon, the eager Ron put the car, on an incline, into neutral to move it. The vehicle began rolling—and Ron leapt behind it to halt it. He was knocked down and crushed by the back tires. "I was completely twisted," he says, and he remembers telling his horrified mother, "Don't worry. I just think I broke my legs." In fact, his spine was shattered. He would never walk again.
Ron spent three years at the Cypress School for the physically impaired in nearby Ontario, Calif. "I was pretty scared of the future," he admits. "But I was determined to do what I was doing before I wound up in the wheelchair." That—and more—included riding on the backs of friends' motorcycles on dirt paths, feet tied to the pedals. Even so, he had to fight for respect. After a neighborhood bully kicked the wheelchair-bound Scan-Ion's feet, "I tackled the kid," he recalls. "I beat him up. That was a taste of blood for me."
At 14, Ron entered Upland's Pioneer Junior High, but he was frustrated by his special physical-education class, and by girls. "I didn't feel they were ready for me," he says. Then, at 17, he discovered kung fu. Fired up by a TV demonstration, he headed for an Ontario martial-arts studio and met a mentor in owner Bill Lasiter. "I could handle it all—kicks, punches, grabs, tackles," he says. Nearly every day he would wheel the 10-mile round-trip to the studio.
At 20, Scanlon earned his black belt and decided to skip college to teach at Lasiter's school. In the 10 years it took him to become a master black belt, Scanlon gave demonstrations as far away as Germany, and for 13 years, beginning in 1978, he played wheelchair basketball with the champion Condors of the Casa Colina Hospital for Rehabilitative Medicine in Pomona, Calif. Last year he struck out on his own, opening the Kwan Yin Studio in West L.A. with his friend Ben Smith.
It was at Casa Colina five years ago that Scanlon met Lynne Ferda, now 29, a brain-injury rehab specialist. "We were very attracted to each other from the get-go, real heart-pounding, sweaty-palm stuff," she says. Last December Scanlon and Ferda moved into a rented two-bedroom bungalow in Upland, now filled with fresh flowers, sports trophies and five wheelchairs. "One for each mood," jokes Scanlon. The carpet is spotless. "Stick that guy on the end of a vacuum, and watch him go," says Ferda. When not in a housekeeping or martial-arts mode, Scanlon loves to go bass fishing and plays tennis, golf—even touch football.
Inevitably Ferda must cope with some tactless questions. "Total strangers will ask me, 'Do you guys have sex?' " she says. They do, and they are contemplating marriage and kids. "We're heading in that direction, but it's not something our relationship hinges on," he says. Meanwhile, their evenings at home often involve renting a movie. "He loves anything from the Blood, Guts and Killing section," quips Ferda. Scanlon pays special attention to the films of Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal, who kicked and chopped their way from martial arts to mainstream stardom. "I'm constantly looking at their movies," he says, "thinking, I could show them things they never thought about doing.' "
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles
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