A whole new world of adventures have opened up for me this past week. I am a young woman who happens to use a wheelchair and never in a million years did I think I could go hiking in the mountains with ease or even maneuver grass without help.
A few months ago I discovered a device called the Freewheel. I first found it at the Abilities Expo in Chicago. The expo showcases assistive devices and organizations geared toward servicing people with the disabilities. The Freewheel was created by a man who is a paraplegic like me. How does it work? I was skeptical myself.
The Freewheel is an attachment that fits on the footplate of a manual wheelchair. Once it is clamped on, it raises the front of the wheelchair so the small caster wheels are off the ground. When maneuvering without the Freewheel the small casters are what get stuck and make it close to impossible to manage on rough unpaved terrain. So with the casters elevated off the ground with the Freewheel attached the theory is rough terrain is no longer an obstacle.
After seeing the wheel at the expo I discovered that other paraplegics I knew used it and loved it. I was no longer skeptical, but eager to try it for myself. My brother bought it for me months ago and it just sat unopened. I was nervous that my mom and I wouldn’t be able to figure it out.
Finally, 6 months later my mom and I brought it on vacation with us. My brother helped us figure out how to use it. It was time for a dry run. We were heading up to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, no real trails to speak of and in the treetops of beautiful and pungent Pine and Aspen trees, almost 11,000 ft up.
I got out of the car, into my wheelchair and popped the Freewheel on and started slowly and cautiously maneuvering the new terrain. It was a miracle. I was having no problems. I started to go a little faster and less cautiously. I was able to push myself and go wherever I wanted with no more effort than any other time. I was free!
I looked on YouTube to see if there were videos of others using the Freewheel. There were videos of people using it on the beach! I love the beach and swimming but finding an accessible beach (with a ramp leading down to the water) is difficult. This means I can go to any beach I want and I can finally be free to do and try things I used to think were impossible. I am free! I love being out in nature and exploring and the Freewheel gives me that freedom.
Nura Aly is a 26 year old woman who is born with Spina Bifida and uses a wheelchair. She has played violin for 18 years. She received her BA in Music from DePaul University and is working towards getting her Teacher Certification in Music from Northeastern Illinois University. She has volunteered at JJslist for about 4 years helping with Disability Awareness Training, fundraising events and most recently with blogging.