In August 2014, Nate Craner was driving home from the advertising agency where he worked as a creative director, when a minivan crossed several lanes of traffic in front of him. He swerved to avoid a collision, but his Ford Explorer was hit on the rear passenger side causing the vehicle to flip several times, and finally land on its roof. Upside down, he could feel the roof giving way, and could see shards of glass and sparks flying as the vehicle skidded to a stop. “I don’t remember climbing out of the car, but I did,” Craner, a dad of three from Arvada, remembers. “Then I heard people screaming, ‘Oh my God, he’s alive”.”
Grateful to have survived the accident, after talking with police and medical professionals at the scene, Craner called his wife, Rachel, to pick him up. He hoped the worst was over, but the next day, it was clear that Craner wasn’t the same.
Craner returned to work about a month after the accident. “I thought I would be able to jump back into my 50-plus hour work week, but I couldn’t keep up the pace. I went to 30 hours a week, then to 15, and then five, and then three. I was getting worse, and people were worried.”
After many tests, appointments, and examinations, doctors determined that Craner suffered from a traumatic brain injury, post concussive syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other complications as a result of the accident.
In January 2016, Craner left his career, after discovering that the fast-paced schedule was nearly impossible for him. High stress environments—even at home—continue to trigger panic attacks. And though doctors and therapists are still hopeful he will improve, they can’t predict how long that will take. They suggested Craner and his family focus on trying to create a “new normal.”
Finding a New Normal
Craner has discovered his “new normal” means restricting his activities to home in a quiet, less chaotic environment. With three active young sons, though, this, too, is a challenge. As he searched for ways he could financially support his family, his 11-year-old son, Ethan, asked if they could make and sell fidget spinners together.
Craner suggested he could whittle one out of wood, and he did. “It took me a long time and it was totally off balance, so I told him, we couldn’t really make these. Then I started to think, well, I can’t, but maybe there is someone else who can. I hadn’t been able to complete many things I started, so I said to myself, I am going to finish something.”
A Product with Purpose
Craner finished something by founding the company, Freedom Fidgets (freedomfidgets.com). With help from former art and design colleagues and friends, and support from his wife, he started a fidget spinner company in which each frame is made from sustainable hardwood, treated with organic finishes, and handcrafted in the United States. Manufacturing is more expensive this way, he says, but “I wanted to do something different, and offer more than cheap plastic.”
And through his product research, Craner discovered something else: the act of spinning the object seemed to actually help his brain. “When I start to feel stress, I spin it, and I move it from hand to hand,” he says. He explains that for someone like himself with a brain injury and PTSD, the parts of the brain that regulate stress do not function as they should. In trauma therapy, Craner says that therapists will often tell patients to carry a smooth stone, a seashell, or some other natural element to help relieve stress, anxiety, and keep them grounded. His wooden fidget spinner provides this support.
“When I’m stressed, my body will go numb. I’m here but I feel like I’m outside of my body,” Craner explains. “The touch, the motion, the scent, and the sound (of the spinner) helps me get centered again. The only claim I can make is that it helps me—I can’t say what it will do for (others). But when it comes to mental and emotional challenges, I”ve developed a device and a method that I believe will truly help others find relief from stress and anxiety.”
In addition, Craner plans to donate 10 percent of the proceeds from each Hero Special Edition fidget spinner to help support firefighters, police, emergency medical professionals, and military.
“We”d like to help people who are going through some of the same things I am going through,” Craner says. “Why not give back to people that have sacrificed so much for our lives, and have helped us through so many tragic situations?”