JACKSONVILLE – It may be impossible to walk away from a conversation with Duane Coats without feeling upbeat. The 51-year-old Middleburg man’s friendliness is clear from the first moment and his positive attitude has an almost tangible quality to it. The fact that he’s sitting on a motorized scooter designed to help him work barely seems to register as anything more than a minor inconvenience.
“When you tell me that there’s something that I can’t do, I’m going to prove you wrong, cause I’m gonna’ do it,” Coats said. “And not only am I gonna’ do it, I’m gonna’ do it to a very high standard.”
Coats, a Navy veteran, recently received the motorized scooter from Challenge Enterprises, a nonprofit that offers programs, services and work opportunities for individuals with disabilities. He has worked for the company for seven years.
Challenge Enterprises worked with the Jaguars Give and Go program to help purchase the scooter, which Coats will use to get around on his job at the commissary at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. The Give and Go program allows charitable organizations to sell Jaguars game tickets to the public and keep a portion of the ticket sale price to fund the nonprofit.
Coats has kidney failure due to heredity and hemoglobin C, which is similar to sickle cell anemia, a group of inherited red blood cell disorders, and has been on dialysis since 2007. Coats also has pulmonary hypertension, which can cause him to lose breath while walking for prolonged periods. That difficulty is why Coats uses the scooter.
Prior to getting the donated scooter in June, Coats was using a scooter owned by the commissary but a February change in policy prevented him was using the base exchange’s equipment. Coats said he understands, but was frustrated at first.
“I’m a disabled veteran working on a military base,” Coats said. “I feel like that should have been taken into account.”
Coats didn’t allow the decision to affect his attitude for long. He turned to his faith to get him back in his old mindset.
“God has a way of taking any negative and turning it into a positive,” Coats said.
Since receiving the scooter, Coats is already noticing improvements in his health. Before the scooter, he was having to stop three to four times on his way to clock in. Now he walks into the store, grabs a buggy and uses that to help him make it to the time clock without needing to stop.
Coats still looks forward to what having his own scooter will allow him to do at work, however. When he used the scooter before, Coats was able to finish his duties and then go to other areas of the store to help his fellow employees. He said he did so in order to promote teamwork and responsibility and is happy that he will be able to return to doing those kinds of things.
Going above and beyond in his work is something Coats had instilled in him at a young age. His mother raised Coats and his four siblings on her own.
“My mother used to say, ‘I don’t care if you’re shoveling [redacted] or shoveling snow, you be the best at it’,” Coats said. “And that’s how I live my life. Whatever I do, I do it to the be the very best.”
A positive mindset is something Coats has passed on to his children as well. He has six children ranging in age from 18 to 27. But that mindset seems particularly clear in his youngest son. Coats’ youngest son, a recent Challenge Enterprises hire, was born without fingers on his right hand. However, that hasn’t stopped him from doing whatever he wants in life.
“I taught him how to tie his shoes, he learned to ride motorcycles, he works on cars with me,” Coats said. “We took him to see a doctor about a prosthetic and he told the doctor ‘I’m fine just the way I am’.”
Through everything, Coats stays positive. He said that it’s not always easy, but he knows that God will see him through it. Coats said if he had a message for the community, it would ssimply be two words – be kind.
“No matter how small an act, it can leave a big impression,” said Coats. “Just say hi, you never know how big an impact that can have on someone.”
Meanwhile, his employer said the decision to purchase the scooter for Coats was easy to make.
“Duane is a fabulous asset to our company and we wanted to make sure that he could continue to be at his best,” said Nancy Keating, Challenge Enterprises’ CEO. “It was an easy fix to make sure Duane is always at his peak performance.”