Kenny Blaney, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a Fairview Beach diving accident in 1996, has now started his second company in the area
“The People vs. Larry Flynt” helped take Kenny Blaney from the depths of despair to where he is today–a Fredericksburg-area entrepreneur who won’t let his disability stop him.
Blaney’s life forever changed on Aug. 25, 1996, a warm summer day that the 24-year-old Chancellor High School graduate spent drinking beer and hanging out with friends on a boat at Fairview Beach.
As the sun was setting, Blaney decided it was time to get his truck and load up the jet skis. He grabbed his keys, put his beer down and dived into the water.
Blaney had not noticed that the tide had gone out, and that the sandy bottom of the Potomac River was just 3 feet under the surface of the muddy water. As his head hit the sand, he heard a cracking sound. Then his body started to go numb as he gasped for air and yelled for help.
A firefighter friend immediately knew that Blaney had suffered a spinal cord injury. Members of the Fairview Beach Fire Department put Blaney on a backboard, secured his neck and rushed him to Mary Washington Hospital.
X-rays confirmed the initial diagnosis–Blaney had broken his neck. More specifically, he had an incomplete fracture of the C4 and C5 vertebrae. He was paralyzed from the waist down and was told he’d likely spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Blaney’s next few months involved a barrage of medical procedures and prescription pills, along with rehab that gave him use of his arms and hands. Blaney was severely depressed, and on many days he had the thought that he’d rather be dead.
Then one night Blaney watched the movie “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” which came out in late 1996 and starred Woody Harrelson as Flynt, a man who was paralyzed from the waist down after being struck by an assassin’s bullet yet built a fortune on the back of Hustler magazine.
Though Blaney knows that all aspects of Flynt’s rise to fame and fortune through pornography aren’t well-thought-of, the story gave him hope that he could become a success. He has since watched the movie about 100 times.
Blaney started to look into available business grants and learned to drive a car with hand controls. He opened Kenny’s Auto Detailing in Falmouth in 1998 and ran it for two years. Then he took a job with a real estate company, and started driving a limousine for several acquaintances on the side.
In 2006 Blaney, who by then had purchased the home where he still lives in The Timbers neighborhood in Spotsylvania County, decided to start a local poker league with two partners.
Three years later the American Restaurant Poker League is still going strong, offering free Texas hold ’em games seven nights a week at several area locations. Blaney and his partners get paid by the bars where the games are held, because they benefit from the additional traffic.
Last month Blaney got final approval to start another company–Anytime Limousines LLC. His friends and business partners Gary Wiseman (who owns Platinum Auto World) and Drew Frye (who owns Virginia Mattress Direct) agreed to purchase the limos and lease them to Blaney’s company.
Anytime Limousines has two Lincoln Town Car nine-passenger stretch limos and one GMC Yukon 12-passenger SUV stretch limo. The company offers both in-town and out-of-town services for all occasions.
Blaney is having all the limos outfitted with hand controls so he can drive them (he uses his left hand to push the control in for the brake and pull it out for the gas; a passenger notices no difference in the ride). He typically keeps one wheelchair in the trunk and one in his driveway so he can go right from the limo to the chair.
The limos can also be driven with foot pedals, and Blaney has hired three additional drivers.
When he’s not pursuing his business interests, Blaney spends time volunteering for The Gerry Bertier #42 Foundation, which is devoted to spinal cord injury research. He has offered free limo rides for various fundraisers in the area.
Blaney, now 37, no longer drinks alcohol other than an occasional beer. Though his life is now a far cry from the partying ways of his youth, he has made the best of the hand that was dealt him. He hopes others in his situation will do the same.
“They don’t have to collect disability for the rest of their lives,” Blaney said. “They can go out and pursue their dreams.”
BY BILL FREEHLING