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Engineer Doesn’t Let Anything Hold Him Back

Published Friday Jul 20, 2018

Author Sheryl Rich-Kern

Engineer Doesn’t Let Anything Hold Him Back

Brent Cote loves the outdoors in all seasons. In the winter, he loves the way fresh powder kicks up around his sharp-edged ski, and in the spring, he enjoys the cool breezes on his face as he bikes past waterways and backyards next to the Nashua River Rail Trail.

Cote wasn’t always a sports enthusiast. It was his new identity as a wheelchair user that helped him discover the passion. After aggressive cancer treatments for multiple myeloma slowly destroyed his ability to walk between 2005 and 2009, Cote experienced a profound depression. Looking back on that four-year period, Cote says he didn’t realize he was in it until he emerged from the depression. “I was [only] going through the motions of living,” he says.

Cote grew up in Merrimack, graduated from Norwich University in Vermont with a degree in mechanical engineering and then worked for the U.S. Air Force. He retired in 1998 because of his medical diagnosis. “Back then, I wouldn’t have classified myself as disabled,” he says.

Although never a self-described athlete, Cote says he desperately needed an outlet. He found it initially in cross-country skiing with Northeast Passage and then alpine skiing. He eventually began teaching others the sport through the Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country.

What thrilled him about skiing—the adrenaline rush, the aerial views and frosty air—is much the same as it is for any person. But for Cote, in his mid-fifties, the accomplishment influenced his endeavors in other aspects of his day-to-day existence.  

“I like the self-esteem I receive when I can do things as well as, or better, as those who are not disabled,” he says.

He hasn’t required any accommodations at work, where he’s pushing 20 years as a systems engineer at BAE Systems, an electronic defense company in Nashua. His company designed a building with ramps and elevators, so getting from point A to point B is not a problem. At least, not usually.

Occasionally, he needs to give his employer guidance. For example, in classified areas of the building, there are no automatic door openers. “They’ve created so much pressure on the doors, I can barely open them.” He brought that challenge to the attention of the HR department, and he says, “they’re working on it.”

Last year, the company sponsored a trip to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in Manhattan. The bus wasn’t handicapped-accessible, so he couldn’t attend. This year, the company is chartering a bus designed to accommodate wheelchair users.

Cote prefers not to telecommute. Unless the city declares an emergency, he drives to the office in his hand-controlled Subaru Impreza. Snowy days do not deter him. “My independence is too important to me,” he says.

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