Thanks to riding a bike being my job right now, I’ve been fortunate to spend chunks of time in Mallorca the last few winters and to escape a good amount of the UK’s dark damp dreary days. The Paralympics is so ‘last year’ now (as a friend recently informed me, just before taking the stage at the Fort William Mountain Film Festival to talk about it!), so my justification to escape for the winter has lost some weight. I wasn’t looking forward to months of rain, sleet, wet snow, digging myself out of the flat with a baking tray (must buy a shovel!), sore chapped hands from pushing through grit and salt, wrapping climbing cord around my wheelchair wheels like snow chains…then stressing when the dirty wetness they’ve soaked up imprints stubborn trails on nice clean carpets.
Experiencing a sense of freedom is what keeps life in a wheelchair bearable for me and it feels that winter steals some of that away. It is harder to get around and to battle with the wheelchair through mud, grit, ice and snow. This winter though has felt a little different thanks to a new gadget I’ve tried – aptly named the ‘Freewheel’ – invented by a guy in a wheelchair who apparently took his frustration about the difficulty of navigating rough terrain and did something to solve it. Thank you!!!
The quality of my winter has improved! In December I found myself whizzing through city streets with the Freewheel clipped on front, barely noticing the kerbs, bumps, potholes and trail of potential hazards that impede my journey from home to the gym – it took me ten minutes to get to the gym instead of twenty! In January I was scooting through a parkland in central Oslo where people could barely stand up on the thick mantle of ice that encrusted the ground – I was suddenly far more mobile than them as the small front wheels were lifted above all the lumps and the Freewheel kept me from spinning on the ice. In February, with a yawning blue sky across the Cairngorm mountains near my home in Scotland, I set off on a forest trail I’ve regularly pushed around, but more quietly, freely and easily than ever before.
It reminds me that technology and equipment are incredibly powerful at changing our lives (I suppose I wouldn’t be anywhere without a wheelchair, and there are of course parts of the world where if you’re paralysed, you are confined to a bed or static chair as there are no wheelchairs). Freedom isn’t something to take for granted.
On that note, enjoy this short You Tube video filmed and edited by my partners daughter, Ella Kirkpatrick, after she impressively pedaled the rear of my crazy tandem around the forest last week (it’s been locked up in the shed for far too long!). It too is a freedom machine! (from www.greenspeed.com.au )
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