Once upon a very recent time, while inspecting some new gadgets, I met and ultimately fell in love with the FreeWheel. I must admit it wasn’t quite love at first sight. My first impression was that it looked like just another random, not-quite-necessary wheelchair attachment. You see, I was “wheelchair born” in the early 90's when a “lean machine” was the primary aesthetic goal. The leaner your chair, the more “pro” you looked. Or so I heard. Or thought. Or maybe imagined. After all, looking pro was all that mattered to my teen brain where my chair was concerned! As a case in point, I still don't have brakes on my chair even though I'm fully aware they have been modernized and engineered to stay out of plain sight these days. I rethink this nonsensical habit every time my chair rolls away from my car as I'm trying to get into it on a hill. And despite knowing rationally I should choose practicality over aesthetics, I suppose I still haven’t fully overcome my teen prejudice against adding stuff to my chair no matter how useful it might be. It’s like wearing a coat over a Halloween costume… it feels awkward and probably uncool, but hell-ooo, it's smart and practical in times of need! (It’s a good thing there are some cool jackets out there…)
So I guess it was finally time for me to grow up and face.... the FreeWheel. The first time I demoed this device at Living Spinal I understood why someone would want one; it makes it much easier to go over different types of terrain smoothly. The FreeWheel uses an easy lever system to clamp onto a chair’s footplate, lifting the front caster wheels off the ground in favor of its larger, rubber wheel. When I attach it to my chair, the little front rollerblade wheels, another purely aesthetic, not very practical chair decision, no longer get stuck on tiny, insignificant obstacles. Those pesky stray pebbles and uneven sidewalk cracks which have been known to send me into a full (or close call) nose dive out of the chair… and sometimes I haven't the time for a comical break! Plus, when you have leg spasms like mine, no stone goes unnoticed for fear of it sending my feet bouncing off my footplate and slowing down my Mario Andretti-esque pace.
I recently had the opportunity to travel overseas for the first time. On a group trip; me, my fiancé, and 19 other couples were headed to Israel. Amidst the excitement, there was one thing bothering me. I was apprehensive of… thousand year old cobblestones. I had heard nightmarish stories about the havoc they create for wheelchair users, especially those with leg spasms. Fortunately, I remembered the Free Wheel and decided to test it out on my trip well beyond the safe confines of the ADA.
Of course every trip begins with packing. I'm not only a bare bones wheeler, but I'm also a light travel packer for a specific reason. I only pack enough so I can carry all my own luggage and still see above the mound of bags on my lap as I navigate through an airport! And yes, this is not easy when you are a clothes and shoe lover and have a hard time narrowing anything down when packing. But after packing up my luggage to the brim, to my amazement the FreeWheel still fit, and without breaking any zippers! So far, so good!
When we arrived at our first stop in Jerusalem, the last thing I wanted to do was slow the group down because of wheeling on unfamiliar and uneven terrain. I knew there would be moments I'd need a boost from others, but it was important for me to hold my own as much as possible. On the first day of exploration I debated whether to bring the FreeWheel with us, thinking it would just be extra baggage if I didn't find it useful. A few bumpy, cobblestoned feet into the journey I realized I was going to need it. Clipping it on was simple and I was off and rolling! And rolling. And rolling. I rolled up a mountain, strewn with rocks, in a desert. I rolled down jagged, hand-hewn stone steps. I rolled up and down hills on wet sand. (Although even the mighty FreeWheel couldn’t compensate for my skinny road tires on dry sand.) I pushed over countless cobblestones with nary a leg spasm. Our trip was physically grueling at times, but I kept up! Unprompted, and somewhat amazed, a photographer traveling with our group said to me, “If someone had asked me whether you were going to be able to get around the Old City I would have answered ‘no', but you've shown me otherwise!” I know I’m stubbornly independent, but I couldn’t have done what
I did or gone where I went without the FreeWheel. They don’t call it the FreeWheel for nothing! I truly was more free!
Despite being someone who suffered for years with a near phobia regarding extra adaptions, I'm so glad I opened myself up to something new. I even had a dream when I got back that I was in another country again but had forgotten to pack the FreeWheel... I was in a panic! From now on, with the FreeWheel by my side (or on my chair), we will travel happily ever after...
BONUS COMMENT! (haha)
One of my favorite, and unexpected, side effects of using the FreeWheel was being able to make heads turn again. After being in a wheelchair for 21 years I've noticed people aren't as shocked by a wheelchair in public as they used to be, especially in more accessible locales. Yet the FreeWheel brought the curious looks back again. Contrary to my initial reaction that the FreeWheel wouldn’t look cool, it turned out to be the complete opposite! I felt like I was using something from the future, in the past. Like a hover-board. Heck yes! Anything to make me feel Marty Fly-ish! [Case in point: Check out this video of a woman's reaction to me rolling by! Classic!]
Want to purchase a FreeWheel of your own or curious for more details?? Click here and Living Spinal will hook you up! If you are collegiate athlete, you have a chance to win a FreeWheel for a limited time! Apply now!