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Derek Mortland: Guitarist, Paraplegic 

In the 1990s, Derek tapped into his thrill-seeking, competitive nature as he competed semi-professionally in motorcycle road racing. His success led him to be ranked 11th in the nation in the sport in 1996.   

"I was injured in a motorcycle racing accident on June 14, 1997. I knew that the likelihood of my walking again was minimal, but with a T9 injury I saw no reason why I could not play guitar from a wheelchair, so I set about relearning to do what I had been doing since I was 12."

During a period of rehabilitative care, he discovered the lessons also included a re-introduction and a new approach to the guitar. With a re-adjusted torso balance, simply holding the instrument became a major test of creativity and fine tuning.   


A guitar-playing physical therapist named Tony Cooper took extra interest in him, helping Derek develop positioning and seating that better stabilized his ability to play.  "Tony would strap me in my chair and give me the guitar. We would un-strap and re-strap me as we looked to find the most comfortable and efficient position for me. Thank God I don't have to use those straps anymore."

In time, Derek reclaimed, redeveloped and redefined his own, unique and distinctive sound. He started to play around with alternative and specialized, non-traditional tunings. Derek credits Guitarist Richard Leo Johnson for showing him the "Gershwin" tuning and for his advice on composition.   

In June, 2004, he will be appearing at VSA Arts International Festival for the Arts in Washington, D.C. I am pleased with these opportunities to bring my music to even more people from throughout the world. It is very gratifying for me to perform at these festivals, and I look forward to expanding the borders of my musical career, he says.

Derek has currently undertaken an Artist in Residency project through VSA Arts Ohio with Hanby Elementary School in Westerville, OH.

Visit Derek's Web Site

VSA Arts Festival Web Site