Having a disability or limitation makes you unique and different than anyone else, which can inspire new ideas and new change.
As a part of our “Unstoppable” series, I had the pleasure of interviewingChris L. Fuentes.
Having raised his family in Connecticut, just 50 miles from the epicenter of Lyme disease, Chris L. Fuentes founded Ranger Ready Repellents, a tick, mosquito, and insect repellent company, after he and his family contracted Lyme disease and endured the life-altering effects caused by just one tick bite. Developing “a better bug spray” with safer ingredients to protect future generations from experiencing those same life altering illnesses is a satisfying culmination of a 30-year career in product and lifestyle marketing for Fuentes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is really an honor. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I spent my career in marketing working for corporations and creating “nice-to-have” products for other people, but I always wanted to create a product that would truly help people live a better life.
About 30 years ago I brought my young family to Wilton, Connecticut, which is just a few miles from Lyme, Connecticut, the epicenter of Lyme disease. It’s an area surrounded by lush forests and a beautiful landscape which we enjoyed daily. However, with that came a risk of tick bites, and soon our family, our dogs, and our neighbors were contracting Lyme disease, one of the most common tick-borne diseases. One of my son’s collegiate running careers became derailed before he could even run a race because of an advanced case and chronic symptoms.
Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you became disabled or became ill? What mental shift did you make to not let that “stop you”?
About 10 years ago, after a summer spent outdoors, I noticed that I had developed a large red mark on the inside of my thigh. In less than 24 hours that red mark had grown to larger than my fist, and after taking myself to the emergency room, I was misdiagnosed with MRSA, the flesh-eating disease. As I was being taken into surgery, which would have removed a very large part of my thigh, an infectious disease doctor saw my leg and correctly diagnosed me with Lyme disease. I was put on a very heavy regimen of antibiotics, and after a closely monitored stay in the hospital, many of my symptoms subsided and I was released.
However, my experience with Lyme disease didn’t end there. I realized that I contracted Lyme disease because I didn’t want to do one simple thing: wear insect repellent. I didn’t think I needed to wear it, and most importantly, I didn’t like wearing it. But most importantly, I didn’t want anyone to have to go through what myself and my family went through.
I soon connected with my business partner, Ted Kesten, who had also gone through similar experiences and we realized we can prevent this from happening with other people. We can prevent a lot of suffering. And we realized that we could make better products that are meant for next generations, can improve the life of other generations.
Can you tell our readers about the accomplishments you have been able to make despite your disability or illness?
My experience has become a crusade of prevention. We truly do not want others to go through the suffering and illness that started here in Connecticut. For us it’s about preventing the one-in-five people who will have lifelong symptoms from just one tick bite. Now, in this country, two million people live with chronic symptoms of Lyme disease, some that prevent them to get out of bed in the morning, and some, like my son, who had their dreams crushed. It’s just too many people. It’s an illness that’s beyond what we can even describe.
We’ve been able to begin the accomplishment of our mission which is to stem the alarming increase of vector-borne diseases in the US. We have created more education opportunities for consumers and medical professionals, more opportunities for professional training of frontline workers, and that simply emphasizes how necessary it is to wear repellents properly, every day. We’ve truly been able to change the way people think about bug spray, and now we have created one that works and that is safe, people will be able to protect themselves and their families. It’s a new take on an old product, all because of bugs.
What advice would you give to other people who have disabilities or limitations?
The limitation of what you can invent to solve a problem — like reducing the number of ticks biting people — can sometimes feel overwhelming and impossible. But, if you can tackle the problem in a different way, take a different perspective, and utilize the passion for change that a disability or limitation has created, then there is truly nothing that can stop you. Having a disability or limitation makes you unique and different than anyone else, which can inspire new ideas and new change. For me, the barrier was changing the mindset and knowledge surrounding insect repellent, something that seemed impossible at first. But I knew I needed to do it — I want future generations, like my new grandson, to be able to spend time outdoors without worry. The passion I have for that grows every day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I think it comes back to mentors along the way, and people who were able to impart wisdom to me in various parts of life and business, including finance, innovation, and disruptive marketing. But most of all it was my father who was the most important influence in my life and continues to give me motivation daily, even after his passing four years ago.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We are determined in the face of this market. People are slow and stubborn to learn, but we’re seeing our efforts create real change. Being outdoors provides experiences, makes memories, and can improve mental health — and we’ve been able to assist in those experiences. We want to prevent people from being bitten by ticks, mosquitos, and other insects, and our passion for that is what drives us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Good luck comes to those who work hard.” — Winston Churchill
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH who is Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I want to share our research and story to help craft a new holistic approach to preventing vector-borne disease in the US. I think we can do it better. We’re going up against gigantic forces, but as those who have limitations or disabilities know, nothing is too big to overcome.