I’m in my late 50s and have an undiagnosed, untreatable spinal-cord problem which is causing progressive paralysis, with both of my legs virtually paralysed now. I was fortunate to some degree that I had late onset problems as I have been able to have a great life so far. I’m happily married to my lovely wife, Katrina and we have two adult children, both who live at home.
Whilst born in Wollongong, I grew up in Brisbane and spent every Christmas holidays since 1968 at Noosa. Between those holidays and going sailing on Moreton Bay on the weekends with my dad, I gained a love for the water. I’ve always had an active life, revolving primarily around the water but also loved running and bike riding. The water though, has a soothing effect on me. Katrina and the kids always say that I’m much happier when I can see the ocean, especially if there are sailing boats about.
I’ve always enjoyed being on the beach, sailing, fishing, surfing, snorkelling or windsurfing. Whilst I am partially disabled now, I still enjoy the beach as often as I can, though getting in and out of the water, especially when there’s a few waves, can be challenging.
Sadly, I was forced into early retirement in 2013 due to chronic pain associated with my condition. I was in the property sector, which I loved, and my work has taken me all around Australia and even overseas on occasions. However, my ‘job’ ever since then has been to maintain my fitness levels and mobility as best as I can. To achieve this, I attend the Sporting Wheelies Gym as well as doing pilates and exercising at home.
To keep my mind active, I love to read and listen to podcasts. I also try and give back to the disabled community whenever I can and I’m always willing to help out with enquiries about any aspect of my disability or dealings with the various government agencies. This has allowed me to take part in the HSP Smartphone app study at Griffith University in relation to gait patterns. I’ve also recently had the opportunity to do an interview segment for ABC Radio for the International Day for People with a Disability about travel and disabilities (https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/travelling-the-world-with-my-wheelchair/12904234) as well as an article (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-29/travelling-with-a-disability-and-wheelchair-tips/12910306).
I’ve been very fortunate over the last few years to have had the opportunity to travel. My wife and I had a ‘now or never’ moment in 2017 to travel, before my mobility worsened, so in 2018 my wife and I went to Europe for 13 weeks. We hired a car and drove all around Europe, did a river cruise and then caught a cruise ship back to Singapore. In 2019 we visited Alaska and Canada for 10 weeks and finished it with a trans-Pacific cruise from Vancouver to Sydney. Both times our children joined us for four weeks and we had great family time together, something you can never get enough of.
Whilst travelling with a disability is difficult, it is not impossible – it just takes a lot more planning before you leave. And once you’re out and about, the unanticipated things will happen like getting the car broken into and luggage stolen, flat tyres on cars and wheelchairs, having no phone access and so on. You never know what is going to happen but you just roll with it at the time and sort it out, just like everybody else does – that’s life. There’s always something to challenge you.
We also fondly remember the highlights – like dog sledding on a glacier in Alaska, drinking beer in an old German castle, snorkelling with rays and sharks at Bora Bora and meeting so many lovely people. If you are at all interested in travelling, make the effort (once Covid settles down!) it will be well worth it.