To Wheel, or not to Wheel?

Leanne Watson / January 26, 2017

When is it time to decide that walking everywhere is no longer a viable option and using a wheelchair is?

Adult Onset Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy as a progressively debilitating condition is quite an enigma regarding the progression timeline or surety of outcome.

Living with this continuous uncertainty has me sometimes feeling somewhat of a fraud. Crazy, I guess, but thought patterns and emotions aren’t always rational.

As I can still stand and transfer (depending on the day, what I am transferring between, and how I am shod, with shoes being a big factor) and actually walk a distance with H.P. walking backwards and using his forearms as my walking frame, I wonder whether, if I could just try a little harder, push myself a little more, have a little more inner fortitude, then maybe I could walk unassisted – I don’t really need these darn wheelchairs!

Then the pragmatic side of me kicks in explaining yet again that even if I could walk for a few steps I would most likely lose my balance, lose my strength or not lift a foot high enough and bam, down I go. Is this actually pragmatism, loss of sensibility or sheer terror? For I am ashamed to admit that I am not in anyway a risk taker and the thought of avoidable injuries that not only leave me in pain but require those around me having to work harder to aid me during recovery is quite an appalling little scenario.

Many people in these and similar situations feel that they must continue to walk despite sheer and utter daily exhaustion, frequent falls, and a multitude of injuries lest they ‘give in to’, ‘give up on’ or, god forbid, ‘accept’ their situation.

Maybe pride does come before a fall in these cases.

But can we be blamed when we grow up taking our abilities for granted, our self worth as a functioning human predicated on the assumption of physical wholeness?

When this gets taken away progressively as opposed to suddenly it makes it hard to accept and move on because we are constantly grieving each new stage of reduced ability. Surely, while we can still do certain physical things like walk a few metres, chop some veggies (even if not put the saucepan on the stove) and hold a water hose to the garden, there is still that chance to fight the inevitable albeit undefined outcome. These scenarios require constant self-examination and adjustment in thinking for all of us with any physical limitations.

How easily we can come to any sort of acceptance depends on our personalities, our natural mental state, support network, socioeconomic background, access to help, and above all the amount of self love and belief you have in your own worth as a great and important part of humanity.

So the answer to the question of whether and when to wheel or not is as unique as we all are, but hey: they sure can make for some fun sport at times.
As a newby to this wheelchair game I was feeling a little reticent and admittedly self-conscious about using a beach wheelchair during our recent visit to Noosa in beautiful Queensland. It really had been ages since feeling sand and water under my feet and why else would we be at this Aussie iconic beach destination (apart from food and champagne of course, but I can get that in Melbourne)?.

We tracked one down at a nearby hotel, and for just a gold coin donation this rubber wheeled jalopy was ours and I was on the pathway to salty watery freedom with a small dose of terror.

After HP and I transferred me into a well used and older style beach wheelchair, I quickly acclimatised to the relative mid level comfort of a bar against my lower vertebrae, slightly awkward extended foot rests and the weird feeling of being lower than usual.

Rolling through the lane way onto the beach path was reasonably easy for all involved. Adding to the characteristic beach sounds of excited children, small swells rushing up to the shoreline and a gull or two was the highly hilarious flubberty, flubberty sounds of the large balloon type polyurethane rear wheels.

Hitting the soft sand was when the enjoyment started becoming a little more Leanne sided with poor HP pushing through these loose sand particles. Of course it was worth the effort (for me) as the water felt delicious. We stayed in one position just soaking up the surrounds and allowing HP’s breathing to return to normal.

You know how when you stand still for too long at the edge of the water and your feet sink further with each tidal water movement? It happens to wheels as well. To free the chair from the sand HP took great delight in ferociously tipping me back and turning so that I was temporarily parallel to the sand staring at the sky – my screams were not from enjoyment.

It really is fantastic that beach wheelchairs have become more and more commonplace. As I obviously had not even considered them before I became less mobile I am even more impressed that they are available in many beaches in Australia now – a lot of local councils and shires (including my closest on the Mornington Peninsula) offer free hire but booking is required.

Beach matting is also becoming more commonplace thanks to crowd funding, corporate investment and some Councils getting on board around Australia. Accessible Beaches Australia is one fantastic organisation that has only been up and running since early 2016 and has achieved the opening of the first 2 accessible beaches in Queensland (Noosa and Burleigh Heads) and the 2nd accessible beach in Victoria at Williamstown with beach matting available during peak times and beach wheelchair availability as well. You can register your support for your local area to be made more inclusive on their website.

Another blog that is very informative on inclusive travel and destinations with beach wheelchair information is Have Wheelchair Will Travel which I thoroughly recommend to those with an interest.

We will definitely be searching for an accessible beach in the future and really look forward to the next beach experience.

Our beach mat image is courtesy of Accessible Beaches and is the Burleigh Heads accessible beach open day event April 2016.

Burleigh Beach made accessible for al
Burleigh Heads beach matting

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