New Friends and New Opportunities
"Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play." Mike Singletary, football Hall of Famer
I grew up cheering for my two brothers and sister at sporting events. It was fun being a fan and a spectator, but playing looked like a blast. I didn’t have access to adaptive sports as a kid. It takes lots of committed people to believe that everyone can participate in just about anything with the right kind of equipment and support. New Hampshire has three organizations (Wheelchair Health in Motion (WHIM), Northeast Passage (NEP), and Crotched Mountain Accessible Recreation and Sports (CMARS)) dedicated to providing the opportunity to participate in sports and other activities for people who live with disabilities.
I've been involved with WHIM for about 5 years now on and off, and much more this past year during Covid. WHIM is a peer-driven group that promotes wellness through upper-body aerobic exercise and positive peer support. They offer opportunities to try new activities, such as, hiking on a wheelchair-accessible trail, sit-skiing, and kayaking, which I hope to try sometime this summer. WHIM also works with other organizations to give individuals a chance to try adaptive cycling at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord, NH. I wanted to try adaptive cycling for years, and I had the opportunity to try it this spring.
At one end of the mall where all the stores were closed, they transformed an empty store into a showroom filled with every adaptive cycle imaginable. One bike looked like a rickshaw with a ramp. Another was a tandem bike, and there were several other three-wheeled hand cycles of different sizes.
Biking was nothing like I imagined it would be. I expected hand cycling to be hard, but this was unbelievably hard. I think that's because my left arm is considerably weaker than my right. Amanda from Northeast Passage and my personal care attendant, Nancy, helped me transfer to the bike. She made several adjustments to my handlebars and seat, which had a back like a regular wheelchair. Then I was ready to go—sort of. When the handlebars were unlocked, the bike began to roll and I jumped. It wasn't easy to rotate the handlebars forward and steer at the same time. With the type of adapted bike I used, the rider uses their upper body and arms to pedal, which made it so difficult to move in a straight line, and steering, well, I wasn’t any good at that either. I'm so glad the mall was empty; I really didn't want to take out any shoppers! It wasn't a total failure. I did get down the hall and back. It took me a year and a day, but I did it. On the bright side, I learned something new; you can't back up with a bike. No joke, I didn't know that because I had never really ridden a bike before. I’ll probably try it again someday because now I have an idea what it's really like. However, next time I’ll bring my quad glove. It has a metal bar in it to help stabilize my wrist, making it stronger and easier to grip things. I am glad I tried it.
It's been a blessing to stay motivated and active through WHIM. I've met several very nice people and there's never any judgment. I have also been able to connect with some old friends. I particularly like therapeutic seated yoga with Mary Carroll. At the end of every class, she does this guided meditation sequence where she tells you to relax every part of your body from your toes to the top of your head. It's very relaxing, and I'm always worried that I might fall asleep.
The social isolation of Covid-19 has been tough on everyone. WHIM has become the most positive part of my day. I spend a lot of time on my computer participating in Zoom meetings for work, but WHIM is just for me. I don't mind joking around about how uncoordinated I feel because everyone struggles with something. Although it's great to see everyone is person, WHIM’s Zoom classes make it possible for me to meet people from all over the state, not just people who live near me. I also don't have to worry about transportation because it's only as far away as my office computer.
From Where I Sit …
I may not be an Olympic cyclist, but I did get to try something new, and I want to try it again with a bike that fits me better. My new friend Bobbi said it best, "My life is getting better because of WHIM. I have a whole new group of friends and because it is on Zoom, I don't have to figure out how to get there. I couldn't get my wheelchair in and out of my car but Zoom makes it easier because I don't have to worry about all of that. And I have met people from all over the state. We get to exercise, and it doesn't matter if you have had a disability all your life or if it was from an accident, we are all there to support each other with no judgement and make each other laugh. It's a lot of fun."