An adventuresome man who liked helping when he could, now he’s reinvented how he helps his new SCI community.

Imagine knowing what career you wanted to have since you were in middle school, attaining that career…and then having it ripped from you in your early 30s, with no possibility of returning to it.

That’s what happened to Shane Heinle.

Heinle was a field service mechanic for Caterpillar, working on and repairing all the big, heavy. equipment you see–and don’t see–because it’s too big and hidden from public view.

“I loved that job,” smiles Heinle. “I was outside daily for ten years and did that job for 14 years.”

Heavy (Equipment) College

At first, it wasn’t an easy path for Heinle to reach that goal. The oldest of four children–Heinle has three younger sisters–his parents wanted him to go to a traditional college.

“I knew that wasn’t for me,” says Heinle, “Even at a young age.” Heinle grew up riding and repairing dirt bikes and motorized quads and relished being outdoors in the dirt and the woods.

Heinle attended Vo-Tech in high school and, after graduation, kept that dream alive by matriculating at The Pennsylvania College of Technology for a heavy equipment repair program.

After graduating, Heinle was offered a job with a local Caterpillar dealer.

And it was history from there. “I started working in the shop, grew up, and got into a field service truck,” relates Heinle. “And I was out and about on customer job sites daily.”

In his free time, Heinle continued to ride dirt bikes. “I grew up racing motocross and riding in the woods. I did that through my 20s,” Heinle says.

However, in his late 20s he discovered mountain biking. “I fell in love with that,” he muses. “It’s a lot easier to throw a mountain bike in the back of a truck than loading up a dirt bike and hauling it around.

Not surprisingly, Heinle was also an avid snowboarder and loved kayaking, camping, and anything he could do outside.

Taking Caterpillar West

“In 2016, I visited Colorado, and I fell in love with the area,” Heinle says. After several more trips, he packed up and moved from Pittsburgh to Colorado in 2019.

“I sold my house and loaded everything in a U-Haul,” Heinle says. He had already secured the same job he had with Caterpillar in Colorado.

“I had just fallen in love with it. It was just so gorgeous out there,” he says wistfully. Coincidentally, a high school friend with similar interests had also moved to Colorado. “He was two hours away, but that’s nothing out there!” Heinle laughs. He says working outdoors and pursuing outdoor hobbies with a friend was incredible.

It Changed in an Instant

On Heinle’s 34th birthday in October 2020, he led a group of 15 guys on a mountain biking trip outside Colorado Springs.

“This was a trail that I had ridden before,” explains Heinle, “and there were some big obstacles.”

One big jump came up, and Heinle admits looking back, he may have been overconfident. “I hit this jump and I tried to slow up, but when I did, the consequence was I came up short, and I bounced,” explains Heinle.

 “When I did that, I landed on my head and came to a crashing halt in the middle of the trail,” Heinle says.

Heinle knew the guys were coming behind him. He tried to scramble off the trail, but couldn’t move. The other riders saw Heinle’s position and condition and asked if they should move him.

Common Sense Under Pressure

“I said ‘No! Block the trail, but do not move me!’” He knew this instinctually from all the biking and motorsports he played. “When something like that happens, they first tell you not to move the injured person.”

Heinle was lying in an awkward position with dirt in his helmet. His shoulder was in pain, but that’s all he could move. He asked one of his friends to pinch his legs.

 “I couldn’t feel anything and thought, ‘This is not good.’ And so, I was scared of the situation,” he says.

They were at 8,000 feet on a very steep mountain, making the rescue effort difficult. Heinle, with dirt in his helmet, was thirsty, so his friends were giving him water as they kept the rescuers apprised of his condition.

No Water for You!

As the emergency crews made their way to Heinle and his friends, they were told not to give him water or food. It took the emergency crew 90 minutes to reach Heinle.

“The scariest moment (on the mountain) for me was when they straightened my neck,” relates Heinle, “because I knew, without a medical diagnosis, that I had a spinal cord injury.”

Thirty minutes later, Heinle was on a medical helicopter after traversing the mountain in a transport litter with one big wheel under it.

Heinle was flown to Penrose Hospital Colorado Springs, where he learned he had suffered a C5 burst fracture.

Calling Home

“A beautiful nurse named Melissa helped me call my parents,” he said. Heinle didn’t want to call them from the mountain due to poor connection, and he wanted to wait until he knew the entire story of his injury.

“Melissa helped me call my parents, and the surgeon told them what happened,” Heinle says. The surgeon thoroughly explained the burst fracture and told his parents that Heinle was fused from C4-C6.

“And then my mom and one of my sisters flew out,” Heinle says, “but I was pretty foggy.”

Just as another sister flew out to see him nine days later, Heinle was transferred to Craig Hospitalfor rehab outside of Denver.

“At Craig, I was only allowed to have two people come into my room for my entire stay,” explains Heinle, because of COVID-19. “So that was going to be my mom and dad, and I felt awful for my sister that had just flown out.”

“As soon as I got to Craig, they were warm, welcoming, and unforgettable. My admitting nurse, Kirsten, and I became fast friends, and we are still friends today,” chuckles Heinle.

Work to Get Home

Heinle was classified as ASIA C, C4 sensory C5 motor. He had access to and took advantage of, all the physical therapy modalities Craig had to offer, including mat and core therapy, aqua therapy, FES Stim biking and a host of other movement therapies to strengthen his body and teach him how to live in his new body.

“It was exhausting trying to stay up in the chair for the day at first,” Heinle says. “I remember I started at 7 am, and at 5 PM I would get back in bed, done with the chair.”

Heinle spent 100 days at Craig, and then moved back to the Pittsburgh, PA, area because his dad, a bricklayer with many connections in the building trades, was putting a complete one-floor apartment addition onto their family home.

There was only one catch: The addition wasn’t quite finished, so Heinle, at 34 years old, moved into a hotel room with his mom.

“It was a tough pill to swallow,” he admits.

Hotel Life

“But my mom, she’s amazing,” he adds, “And she took it in stride. “We spent two months in the same room at the hotel,” he says. “She’s a professional nurse, but by the end of two months

we were both ready to move on!”

Heinle says it was nerve-wracking to leave the rehab hospital because you are “waited on hand and foot there,” says Heinle. “And, then you get out of the hospital, and it’s like, ‘OK, now what?’”

People Helping People

Heinle then offers that’s why the “Shazier Fund exists–to help us figure it out, to bridge that gap. Which is why I’m thankful for them.”

Heinle’s uncle had a connection with somebody on the Shazier’s Fund board, so he had a “Ryan Time” Zoom call with Ryan while he was still in the hospital.

Heinle got into his new apartment house in April 2021, only six months after his injury. Earlier, Heinle mentioned that both on the job and among friends, he was always the guy willing to go the extra mile to help someone else. “Now, here were all these people coming here to help me!” he says, incredulously.

“I’m so grateful for these people, “he says. “I mean, it was just… It was nothing short of amazing.”

Heinle’s home has a beautiful, gigantic living room and a lovely bedroom.

“I have an overhead Hoyer lift, (generously paid for with a grant) and a roll-in shower set up for a guy in a wheelchair,” he boasts. He uses the lift to get out of bed because the bed is too soft to get out of by himself.

“My mom and dad usually help me into and out of the Hoyer,” says Heinle, “or I have an aide that comes to help with my morning routine.”

Turning the Blues into Bonuses

It’s been almost three years since Heinle’s injury, and admittedly, he’s gone through some tough times mentally. “I was never afraid of injuries,” he notes. He used to “love taking a good hit, a good crash to make you feel alive,” says Heinle, “but the old spinal cord, well, it’s pretty fragile.”

When asked about his physical and mental routines, Heinle admits he doesn’t have one. “I was thinking about that the other day,” he offers. “I use resistance bands every day, and I do some weightlifting. I use a dumbbell, do arm stuff, and then a ski machine.”

And, like a lot of SCI warriors, he also believes improvement can happen after the two-year mark.

“Things are changing, not for the better, but I have gotten more spasms. I’m not gaining more function, but I’m gaining some strength,” he says.

Heinle is spiritual, he says, and believes if he takes care of his body, it will take care of him.

But mentally, Heinle was down. “For the first two years, I was sitting here, wondering what I’m supposed to do?” So, the first two years, I was sitting here. Wondering what I’m supposed to do.”

He knew he liked working for Caterpillar.

“But now that I can’t do it anymore, I was like, wow, I really loved that job,” Heinle says. “I liked getting my boots dirty. I liked helping out,” Heinle reminisces.

“You know, you call me up, I was there to do whatever, I was there to help,” he offers. “I identified as a fun guy, not just a working man.”

Heinle had more bad days than good days. “I kept thinking, ‘Tomorrow will be better.’” Heinle says. “Then you wake up tomorrow and it’s like, ‘OH, it’s another bad day.’”

Heinle started talking to a therapist back in December and says it’s the best thing he ever did.

“I talk to her once a week. And it’s just nice to have someone to help organize your thoughts,” says Heinle. “I’m gaining a new sense of clarity in my mind that I used to have, you know, pre-injury. Now, I’m just taking every opportunity that comes to me.”

Grabbing The Golden Ring–Every Time

He cites opportunities with The Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation, sharing with and participating in panel discussions with the United Spinal Association, doing stories like this,” he says.

I want to be able to share my story and my experience to help anybody else get through this,” he says. “It feels so empowering to be in a group of people who want to help for the right reasons,” he says.” And a lot of them genuinely care.”

And partially because he can organize his thoughts and redefine his purpose through therapy, Heinle is rewiring his brain to have fun in different circumstances.

He’s discovered handcycling and is applying to obtain a handcycle. He’s also tried adaptive kayaking and is researching travel options.

His immediate short-term goal is driving. “I’m in the process of getting the waivers. I’ve already passed my hand-control driving test,” he says. “I’m just waiting for my insurance to approve funding for a modified vehicle.”

Watch out, Pittsburgh. In no time, Shane Heinle will be cruising your streets in his modified minivan, looking for ways to help and joining in on any activity he can.



Shane Heinle and Family

Be patient. Things are going to take longer. It’s critical. It might take you 45 minutes to make an egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast, but it will taste so much better. So, yeah, patience is critical.

Be appreciative and respectful of those who care for you. My mom is my primary caregiver, and I’m mindful of that. I don’t want to wear her out.

Don't quit. It will get better, but you have to work for what you want.

Surround yourself with the right people. Positivity is critical. Reduce the negative influences.