One-armed businessman shows grit

first_imgVALENCIA – For Jim Groman, steel nerves and perseverance can overcome anything – a life-altering accident that took his right forearm, homelessness or just a tough carpet stain. The 44-year-old Canyon Country carpet cleaner had faced more adversity in his teens than most people are likely to see in a lifetime. When he was 18, a motorbike accident left him with third- and fourth-degree burns over 85 percent of his body and claimed the arm and his left pinky. He was discharged from the hospital in about four months, only to drift into homelessness. His parents had separated and sold the family home. “The house was in escrow when I got out,” he said. “As teenagers, you don’t really know what could happen.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant Yet Groman still thrived. Over the past 21 years, he has built a $200 investment in a portable carpet steamer into his own business – J&M Carpet Care – and established a warm home with his wife and two children. “When it’s dirty, you just scrub it till it’s clean,” he said. Groman arrived, tubing in hand, at 9 a.m. sharp for his first job on a recent Saturday – cleaning 73-year-old Joan Chenoweth’s one-bedroom apartment, which she shares with her pet Chihuahua, Jesse. “You got to be regimented about it,” Groman said. “You’ve got to show up when you say you will. … Never go up empty-handed. I always carry a couple lengths of hose. It saves you a couple of trips.” Chenoweth welcomed Groman in, then left for breakfast and took Jesse with her. She said a neighbor had recommended the carpet man as quick, with an eye for detail. “I’m sure he could do the job,” Chenoweth said. Groman jumped into action, connecting the water line and unraveling a hose and attachments. Within 15 minutes, he was sweeping. Asked if customers ever hesitate to hire someone disabled, he said: “At first, I think some of them will be skeptical. They see me work for two minutes; that’s the end of that.” Groman said he has always worked – for money since he was about 14 and growing up in Chatsworth with his identical twin brother, Dan. He worked in landscaping and as a furniture mover – physically tough and sweaty jobs. “We grew up poor,” he said. Larry Buckler, 44, grew up with the Groman twins, hanging out in the canyons and a cul-de-sac in Chatsworth. “That whole neighborhood – it was the baby boomers there, and there were a lot of kids the same age,” said Buckler, who now lives in Arkansas, but spends his summers in California, working with Jim. “It was a lot of fun, but it was not so fun. There were a lot of hard times. I was in and out of my house at about 14. “You’ve never met two nicer guys,” he said about the Groman brothers. “I trust them with my life.” Then came the accident. The twins were riding double in Brown Canyon on a motorbike that took a spill. The bike had a faulty gas cap, and a spark ignited the fuel, engulfing both brothers in flames. When Jim Groman arrived at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, he had burns on 85 percent of his body. His right arm had to be amputated at the elbow, along with his left finger, as doctors attempted to reconstruct the surviving hand. He recovered, partly thanks to a skin graft from his twin brother, who suffered third-degree burns only to his legs. “Of course, I fought like hell, too,” he said about his will to live. But little awaited him outside the hospital. His parents were in the midst of a divorce even before the accident, and the family home was sold months after he was discharged. He briefly stayed with his mother in a guest house, but the owner did not want Jim there. Dan Groman took charge of his brother and moved into a camping trailer with Buckler and three other friends, some as young as 15. They formed a family and survived for for some 10 months on Groman’s disability checks and the meager earnings from those old enough to work. “Teenage throwaways – it was the thing to do then,” Jim Groman said. “We were just young,” said Dan Groman in a phone interview from his home in Surprise, Ariz. “If we were really serious about it, we could have done it quicker. We were young men. We didn’t know what to do.” The boys took turns looking after Jim. His body had shriveled from the burn injuries, so even using the bathroom was tough. It took him years to learn to move again. “We all worked at different times, so there was at least someone with him, normally,” Dan Groman said. “Jim wasn’t a wuss, but he had it tough.” “We weren’t in contact with our families back then,” Buckler said. “We were kind of a family. We were really close. We relied on each other, especially with Jim and the condition he was in. “He could hardly stand for a period of time. There was a lot of stuff he couldn’t do for himself. And rehabilitation? It was us.” After about eight months of camping at local parks, the friends pooled enough money to move into a two-bedroom apartment. They haven’t looked back since. “It was on De Soto,” Jim Groman said. “You never forget your first one.” Still, it took him two more years to rehabilitate a body with skin taut from burns. He soon returned to work, delivering auto parts and learning the carpet-cleaning trade from a business owner he met at church. “I probably would’ve been doing something like this (even without the accident),” Groman said of carpet cleaning. “I was always physical. … I like it. Going in and beautifying someone’s home, it gives me a pretty good feeling.” “You’re surprised what you can do when you’re thrown into a situation,” Buckler said. “The thing about Jim: I don’t look at him as handicapped. It’s pretty amazing the things he went through, the things he overcame, but I don’t look at him as handicapped. He’s a remarkable person.” By chance, Groman came across a used portable carpet cleaner and purchased it for $200 – his share of the month’s rent. With a few modifications on the unit, he was in business. “It was a risk,” he said. “If I didn’t hustle enough work that month I would have been out.” Groman built his company through two decades of cold calls, late nights and weekends away from home. He gained clients through word-of-mouth, one stain at a time. “Starvation is a good motivator,” he said. “If you don’t work, you’re homeless.” Groman wants this work ethic instilled in his children – Chris, 16, and Julia, 14. They join him on jobs occasionally, and he hopes to save enough to send them to college. “I want them to have a good life,” he said. “But I don’t want them to think everything’s lollipops and sunshine.” Still, life turned out well for Groman and lifelong friends. All six managed to remain off the streets. “At least four are homeowners,” he said. “It’s the circumstances,” Dan Groman said. “You either rise above it – it’s a conscious decision – or you let them sink you.” Eugene Tong, (661) 257-5253 [email protected] center_img 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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