Travel on the cheap: A solar powered journey

In 2010, Haidar Taleb started a 200 mile journey across the United Arab Emirates in his power chair.

Inventor of the solar powered wheelchair, Taleb put his invention to the ultimate test, and challenged the way we see disability.

By taking-up this journey, I want to raise awareness about disability and tell people that we, despite our disability can achieve anything as an individual, if we are determined to try and have courage to do so. — Haidar Taleb

This is a really cool way to make travel accessible to everyone. I for one would love to see disabled and able-bodied road-trippers alike, flocking down the bike lane off to their next adventure.

I mean, if you’re going to vacation in a sunny paradise, might as well–right? Moral of the story, sunny states, countries and tropical islands need to adopt a pedestrian/solar powered lane on all their big roads to facilitate such roadtrips!

All in favor say “roadtrip!!”

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Starstruck: Wheelz

Aaron “Wheelz” Fotheringham is a 21 year old Extreme Wheelchairer.

Spinal bifida — a birth defect of the spinal cord — left Aaron in a chair but it did not get in the way of his dreams. A successful moto-cross athlete, Aaron does with his chair things others can only dream of doing on a bike.

Aaron can forever boasts the FIRST EVER double back-flip on a wheelchair, among his many accomplishments alone and those done with Nitro Circus (essentially a motocross “circus” crew of incredibly talented and brave athletes).

Concussions are temporary, backing down is permanent.- Aaron Fotheringham

Fotheringham wants to change the way people see wheelchairs. After seeing this, it will be hard to see a wheelchair the same ever again.

I present, the first wheelchair double back flip:

Duct Tape Surfing

Making summer plans and concerned that you might have to miss out due disability?  There’s an app… Ther’s an office supply for that!
Note: Technology Tuesday is usually reserved for the most cutting edge, sci-fi-esque technologies that are applied to various disabilities and just blow your mind. But this use of low-tech Duct tape is substantially mind blowing to merit a break from the norm.

Two weeks ago marked the summer solstice. If you are a Beachologist, you probably observed this holiest of days by escaping the heat by hitting the waves!

While Beachology has been a little exclusive in the past, it has been increasingly accessible and welcoming to people of all abilities. Here is yet another example, and let me tell you it’s breathtaking!

Pascale, a mother of two in Australia, was paralyzed (paraplegic) 18 years ago. Her two sons surf and when she expressed to one of their surf buddies that she wished she could go with them…WT DuctTape surf 2

…they went out and bought some duct tape  and made her dream a reality. I present you Duct Tape Surfing.

The video of their journey is a MUST SEE. This summer they are doing a Legless Summer Trip, surfing all over Western Australia to inspire others. They raising money for this trip over the next week and you might even get a chance to surf with Ty–aka Duct Tape Man.
Visit www.DuctTapeSurfing.com to see how you can support their pilgrimage.

I’m so sorry. I’m really on a role with this metaphor! But I promise I’ll stop; I can restrain myself. 
Following the edicts of the Book of Duct Tape: With Duct tape, all things are possible.
Or was it the 11th commandment: Thou shalt surf with Duct tape?
Okay, now I’m done. 

DuctTape scuba divingTo be completely serious, this journey is equal parts unbelievable and awe-inspiring. I love that Ty helped Pascale literally get her feet wet and ultimately realize her dream.

They have have also dived together and it seems that these two can do anything!

Personally, I hope that at least 1 the 5 donors that get a surf lesson with Ty has a disability. It would be so cool if Duct tape surfing took off!

Wheelchair mermaid

Last night ABC aired a story about the first wheelchair mermaid.

No, I’m not talking about Lady Gaga’s alter-ego Yuyi the Mermaid. And still not her predecessor Bette Midler’s Mermaid in a Wheelchair singing act.
Though I will echo the sentiments of the Lady Gaga article: ” Personally, I’m in love with her new persona. I’ve always contested that mermaids are a natural to combine with a wheelchair because they would need one if they ever went on land. Plus,…she’s making it a breeze to cosplay her if you can’t walk”.

Sue Austin wheelchair mermaidBut I’m not talking about them, I’m talking about the deep sea diving enchantress Sue Austin.

She lost her mobility after battling cytomegalovirus. When she finally got her wheelchair, she felt so liberated. She regained so much, but others viewed her chair as limiting. Through art she is trying to change this misconception. She started diving a few years ago after she consulted some engineers who told her it was impossible. That motivated her more than anything and now she’s swimming with the fishes.

Let her take you on her journey and become part of the art; watch her TedTalk.

Ablevision: Tom Brady’s starstruck sneak attack

One of the most rewarding parts about writing this blog is being continually surprised.

The technological advances are always mind blowing. But I’ve accepted the fact that there are and will always be enough research/innovations to keep the world’s fastest reader occupied for a lifetime.

The thing I haven’t gotten used to is how people touched by disability are motivated to change the world for the better. I’ve barely been able to scratch the surface with what I’ve been able to cover so far: from making superhero capes for children with disabilities and dolls that disabled children can relate to, to taking initiative to make local activities accessible like boating, skiing, piloting, dancingmarathoning, and even safari-ing!! (There’s more, that’s just all I can list in only 5 breathes) Its incredible! And never ceases to amaze.

I came across Ablevision on YouTube today–a channel produced entirely by 45 crew members with mental and physical disabilities.

We seek to entertain and inform our viewers, and most importantly, we want everyone to know that we can do anything! Not only do we want to portray people with disabilities in a positive light, but also offer a unique program that allows people with disabilities creative control and direction. –YouTube profile

While the YouTube channel only posts clips of episodes (view entire episodes at www.ablevision.org), I have to admit I’m impressed! And you can even hire Ablevision to produce a professional video for your business 😉 😉 I had a lot of fun going through clips and learned a bunch about the disabled community in Boston, including the annual Best Buddies Football Challenge.

Best Buddies is an international nonprofit that pairs up individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities with members of the community. Quarterback Tom Brady has been involved with Best Buddies for 10 years and played QB for both teams in the buddies touch-football game. Brady even took an interview with Abelvision (watch here) and you can see how passionate he is for the event and for his buddy.

Best Buddies has been stunningly influential in communities around the world, boasting that “Best Buddies volunteers annually contribute, at no cost to their communities, support services that equate to more than $168 million USD.” Holy smokes!

I know it’s not Saturday, but gosh darn it, I’m a little Starstruck for Tom Brady and for the Ablevision crew!!
Starstruck Saturday came early this week.

Tom Brady Best Buddies

No Limits – Wheelchair basketball

And finally, to wrap up the No Limits Weekend sports coverage: Wheelchair basketball!

Wheelchair basketball

I was a little surprised to see these two teams, all in matching uniforms, dominating the sports park when I arrived. You could tell right away that these were no amateur teams! Not only did they maneuver well around the court, they had fake-outs and tricks! It was a little ridiculous. In an awesome way.

It was a lot of fun to watch–way more fun than garden-variety basketball if you ask me! Watch a clip of the match if you don’t believe me:

At one point a ball rolled off the court to wheelchair unfriendly area. A nice lady went to get it and her shoe slipped and she almost ended up on the ground. One of the players jumped out of their seat to help her. That was pretty entertaining to watch too.

Apparently, this is the first wheelchair basketball team in Sicily. Not all the players could come to this event, so there were a few able-bodies on the court. Three of the players were clearly not faking as they had above-the-knee amputations–including two of the founding members: Fausto Firreri and Giuseppe Viola.

Before I tell you what they said to me, let me preface that these were two of the nicest men! They were welcoming and very open and willing to answer questions. They told me how this all started about 3 years ago when they went to Bologna to play basketball in a tournament there, just for fun. They went a few times and finally decided that they wanted to keep playing.

Seeing as there wasn’t a wheelchair basketball team in Sicily, they decided to start their own. They started finding players and sponsors. As you can imagine, it was tough to find players, but they did and now have earned Serie B status (like soccer rankings. So this is the B League–it’s hard to imagine what it takes to be in the A League). They are always looking for new players and have been so successful that they have now started a second team in another city!

Windsurfing amputee Giuseppe ViolaNow, these guys are inspirations for others to get out there! I can’t help but think that maybe Giuseppe Viola was probably an inspiration for everyone else to get involved. He got a prosthetic with one of those high-tech knees that allows him to windsurf, snow board and mountain bike (and those are only the sports I remember him listing!). This guys is unstoppable! So is his kick-butt team!

Check out their Facebook Group–it’s in Italian but pictures are worth 1000 words, in the universal language of pixelish.

No Limits Archery

Continuting with the No Limits Weekend sports coverage…

On Sunday May 26, 2013 there was an all-abilities-welcome day of archery.

The event had some celebrity presence. Veronica Floreno–recieved Silver at the 2010 European Para-archery Championships and finalist in the 2012 Paralympics–and Nino Lisotta–2010 Italy Champion–were both present and showed us what they’ve got!

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It was a very impressive demonstration! There were also others taking their shots on the field. There is a team in Palermo called AS.D Dyamond Archery–it is a large group of archers with mixed abilities. This member explained that archery is the only sport that it doesn’t matter if you are in a chair or not. They are about 50 members strong and open to new members.

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No Limits Sports!

One of the highlights of the No Limits Weekend was where diverse abilities met sports!IMG_2998

The athletic events were held in a nice sports park right on the beach, with a nice view of the water and the mountains. It was the perfect spot!

On Saturday (May 25), there was a power chair hockey match.

Day open to diverse abilities banner

“Giornata aperta alle diverse abilità”
Day open to diverse abilities

I was impressed to see that medical responders were present. They were stationed at the sidelines of the game, with their ambulance parked at the top of the stairs.

Medical responders and ambulance

Note: Since Italian structures are generally historical, medical responders must transport patients up and down many steep staircases.  In this case, these stairs are not too steep and not very long. The wheelchair-accessible ramp is on the far side of the park and opens to a congested parking lot filled with pedestrians. I’m saying this to give perspective and to show that there was some thought that went into the layout of the event.
Maybe the fact that at the top of the stairs was the easiest place to park played into the decision-making process, but it is definitely where you would want them to be stationed if there was a real emergency. Don’t get me wrong, you know I love to poke fun of how people interpret “accessibility” here (and this one is still kinda funny), but you also have to give credit where credit is due. And the organizers of this event deserve a lot of credit.

Power chair hockey match

You can see a clip from the match on our YouTube channel. I’d advise you to appreciate the coaching being done–it’s pretty funny.  My only regret is that I didn’t catch when the coach ran onto the field and hit one of her players…

Spare chair and hockey stick

Do you think you’d enjoy being part of the fun next year but don’t have hockey gear/swag?
They have extra. 😉 😉

Behind the Mask – No limits!

Continuing coverage of the No Limits Weekend –it’s going to take a few more days to get through everything!– we have the Saturday night performance of Mondo Elfi – Giù Le Maschere (“Take down your mask”). 

This theatre troupe is, without doubt, unique! All the actors have a serious mental disability.

Guided by one of the directors, who also played a role in the show, these 6 actors put on a 45 minute show for a captivated audience! There was a group of a good twenty kids, all about 10-12 year old, who sat attentively through the entire show–if that isn’t proof of a job well done, I don’t know what is!

The performance, titled The Train Station, was about waiting for the train. We  met a thief who got the better of the conductor. The group decided have a meal together while they waited. And they all shared stories of when they were little. Finally the train came and they said goodbye.

At the end of the show, they took their bows and received a standing ovation!
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The directors explained that this group has been together for about 2 years and has put on this performance 4 times. They spoke about how these actors gave them so much more than they gave the actors and how the experience changed them. The actors were having a great time and it was such a pleasure to watch.

You could tell how much this group means to them when they each took a turn talking about it after the show. One actor took a moment to share a poem he wrote. My Italian is a little rough around the edges, so I didn’t pick up everything he was saying; but the audience’s reaction alone was very moving and told me all I need to know about the words of that poem.

It was a beautiful night. So many people approached the directors to compliment them on their work.  From speaking to one of those audience members, who was visibly emotional from the performance, it became even more clear to me how important these types of events are. She told me that when she was a little girl in this city, she would only ever see disabled children from behind a window; their parents were ashamed and didn’t let them out or go to school. They hid them away. It was a very powerful message to me, that we have come so far since then!

Without this group and without events like “No Limits”, these actors might have been locked away. Instead they are enjoying themselves and touching the lives of so many people while they’re at it!

Congratulations on a job well done! I wish them many more performances in the future!

No Limits Marathon!

Yesterday I participated in the No Limits Marathon at San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily to support the accessibility project at the local beach. This was a non-competitive 5k “marathon” where streets were closed along a route that allowed anyone to participate.

The route was along the beach and through the city.

No Limits Marathon along the beachNo Limits Marathon past the churchNo Limits Marathon through town

There were people who participated in their chair and even one who used a hand bike. This is one of the guests of honor (below). Everyone wanted to take a picture with him and his neat bike–even the Mayor! By the end of the photo shoot, he was making jokes that he would have to bat away all the paparazzi to start the race. Participant using handbike

The majority were able-bodied and many were children. One group in particular was participating for their friend Nikki who has cancer. “Nikki non mollare” – Nikki don’t give up!

Nikki don't give up

In true Italian style, when we crossed the finish-line, we were met with a heart-healthy breakfast of Nutella sandwhiches! Nothing like the scent of Nutella to motivate you to sprint to the finish-line!! (Note the size of the bottle on the table: a small child could fit in there!)

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(While eating my Nutella sandwhich) I was fortunate enough to see this participant cross the finish-line. He was another one of the guests of honor and everyone cheered for him as he received his metal. He was so happy! I wish I could have captured it in the photo, but his joy was so infectious and heartwarming, and it became one of the highlights of the event for me.
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No matter how many races I do, this one will always stand out. It was such an amazing experience to see such a wide variety of people come together. We are all so easily separated by age, ability, and all the trivial things that can be so divisive. But to see people come together in such a happy and supportive event was pretty neat.

This will be a race I will always remember.

IMG_3066No Limits Marathon
With heart you can go anywhere
San Vito Lo Capo
May 25-26 2013

No Limits Marathon final stretch

I hope to see you here next year!