Power Chair Adventures: From Land's End to John O' Groats on an electric wheelchair!
by James Dunworth
Wheelchairs Direct UK
Writer and power chair adventurer Mary Laver has not walked for twenty years. After a number of operations, she has no knee or elbow joints, and does not have the mobility to scratch her own nose. Yet the cheerful and positive 60 year old is not only refusing to let her disability get her down - she is also planning to cross the length of Britain in a power wheelchair.
I spoke to Mary over Skype, an internet telephone, and asked her just why she wanted to do it.
"I needed a challenge, to be honest. I'd already been invited to a challenge in 2006 … I was in the Great North Run and I went up to a stand at the show and somebody there said do you want a challenge … we had a good old talk and they came up with the challenge of pushing me in a marathon in South Africa."
Unfortunately, the challenge fell through, but it left Mary with the taste of adventure in her mouth. She felt the need to do something, and to have a life-changing experience.
"I'm 60 now, and it's time to get out there and start having some fun!"
The Land's End to John O' Groats run was something she had always wanted to do, although at first she thought it would be cheating to do it in a wheelchair!
A friend persuaded her that the End to End could be done in anything, and research quickly proved that to be the case - the trip has even been done in a jet plane! Two wheelchair users have attempted the trip - one person's chair turned over half way through the trip, and the other managed to complete it in six weeks with the help of a van and three power wheelchairs. Mary hopes to complete the trip in just four weeks.
Getting ready for the trip is not easy. Mary needs a team of carers, who she must feed and house during the trip, a cyclist to accompany her, and detailed planning of the whole route. She has already run into many obstacles - not least bureaucracy and organisations who view her as a health and safety hazard. One police authority wrote to Mary requesting:
"1. The proposed route through our area with road numbers. 2. The dates and times each day that this will be taking place. 3. The location details of the proposed overnight stops. 4. The names and mobile phone contact details of the Support Crew. 5. What type of Advance Warning Signs or Lights will be in use on the Support Vehicles 6. The details of all the Support Vehicles with Reg Numbers type and colour 7. How many support pedestrians will be walking with this event at any one time."
Another police authority asked her to travel off road! As Mary told me, this was unfeasible - as a power wheelchair user with limited mobility she needs to be "gettable".
Finally, and shortly before I spoke to Mary, the charity she wished to raise money for, Arthritis Care, pulled out, citing health and safety concerns.
I was expecting all these obstacles, and especially the loss of the charity and their support, to discourage Mary. Yet when I asked her about them she replied:
"Actually, I'm relieved. I was having to jump the way they wanted to jump: there were certain things they wanted me to do - even the cut off date which they wanted me to have, on the 11th May. But personally I would go to the starting line and start and hope people would help, and if they didn't I would get in the van and come back."
There are other obstacles in her way though - she is, after all, in her 60's and has severe rheumatoid arthritis. However, unlike many other people with arthritis, she is no longer in pain.
This is despite a refusal to use any drugs stronger than paracetamol. Instead, she is a strong believer in maintaining health and fitness through diet - even writing a book on the subject called Food for Life! And while she cannot do most physical exercise due to her disability, she does use a power breather to provide respiratory exercise.
She is now waiting to receive her power wheelchair - the Alber Adventure. She has already tested and used the Alber, and waxes lyrical about the chair.
"When you are in a power chair and it is going at eight miles an hour, believe me it feels fast … to me it is the formula one chair of electric wheelchairs."
At the end of the interview, I asked Mary if she had a message for any other power chair users who wanted to do a challenge, and her reply was simple.
"Just do it!"
James Dunworth is a writer, lecturer and the webmaster of Wheelchairs Direct UK, which specialises in the supply of power chairs to the UK and Ireland. He is based in Qatar.
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