Sunday, July 29, 2012


Vacation, Walking, and Swimming

During the last week of June my family and I returned to South Haven, MI for the first time in three years.  We started going to South Haven for our summer vacations when I was in 6th or 7th grade.  We always stayed in a condo or house on the beach (usually one loaned to us by a family friend, which made vacationing there pretty cost effective).  I have great memories of shopping in the town, laying on the sand, walking long distances on the beach both day and night (ask Mom to tell you about the night Ben Hinkle and I disappeared for hours when we met a couple of girls from Kalamazoo), swimming in the lake, playing in the waves, and all of the other great things there are to do in the area.  Almost every day ends with finding a quiet place to watch the sunset and then going to Sherman's for ice cream. 

Trips to South Haven, though still great fun, are now bitter sweet for me.  As a direct result of the accident I cannot enjoy many of those things in the way that I once did, but I do enjoy the time with my family and can adapt to enjoy most of the things I mentioned above in different ways.  Unfortunately walking on the beach, or even exploring the beach independently, is lost to me.  Never again will my family have to go looking for me because I met a girl and wandered off on the beach to "look at the stars".  

Shopping in Saugatuck, a nearby artist's colony with great shops, is a different experience now, but far more enjoyable that it would have been in the early years after the accident.  I was forced to use my wheelchair because of both the distance we have to cover and the warm summer weather.  (Although I should mention that the weather was beautiful while we were there.  The first several days were sunny in the high 70's and mid to high 80's and the last few days were in the high 90's, but we spent the hot days at the beach  where the wind coming off the water was cool and refreshing.  Unfortunately the water itself was bone chilling cold, but that didn't stop Madeline and her friend Lyla from playing in the waves!)  Ok, back to shopping, getting around Saugatuck in the wheelchair was very easy, thanks to curb cuts and wide sidewalks, but most of the shops were not set up for a wheelchair user to move around easily (though surprisingly, several were very accessible).  In situations where I couldn't bring the chair in, I'd stand up and walk into the store to look around.  Luckily, my chair fit just fine inside Kilwin's, where I bought four different flavors of fudge!

Now, to the beach.  This tends to be the most difficult part for me.  It's why I was so apprehensive about returning to South Haven, for the first time since the accident, three years ago.  Before that trip I had not been to South Haven since I had gone to college and started working every summer.  I knew that I couldn't walk on the beach; I can't even wear my legs on the beach (don't want sand in my joints, I saw what C3P0 went through on Tattooine!), and I didn't think I'd be able to get in the water at all.  Knowing my concerns about this, Mom contacted the owner of the house we would be renting and asked if they knew anywhere that we could get a beach wheelchair.  That person contacted a nice couple who run a company called Homebodies of Western Michigan.  They bought a beach wheelchair so that they could rent it to us during our trip.  As this years vacation was approaching I contacted them to see if it was available.  Unfortunately the chair had already been rented during the time we would be there, but they bought a new one so that I'd still be able to enjoy the area!  They are such a wonderful couple, and if you have a disability but want to enjoy the beach in that area, they are the people to call.  No one else seems to have that kind of equipment available.

The beach wheelchair allowed us to go wherever we want on the beach, and even in the water, allowing me to get much farther out than if I was scooting around with my hands.  The only draw back is that it's not motorized, so I lose some independence because someone else has to push it.  I can move it forward and backward by rolling the wheels with my hands, but there's no turning it.  Three years ago I felt embarrassed to be in the chair on the beach, getting pushed around by my Mom or Dad, but this time was different.  On the first day, as my Dad was pushing me towards our spot near the water, a cute young blond in a bikini looked over and said "Wow, that's cool!", which of course helped my self esteem tremendously.  Every time we were at the beach, people commented about how neat the chair was and asked questions about it.

As with all vacations, even the Warriner family vacations have their stressful and tense moments, but overall we had a wonderful time, every day was filled with laughter!  The only thing that really darkened my week was learning that Governor Daniels had been chosen to be the next President of Purdue University, my Alma Mater.  Now, I don't like the man's political views or the way he does business, but I have to admit that I do think he'll do a good job as President of the University.  What upsets me is the fact that, as Governor, he appointed the majority of the Board of Trustees who made the hiring decision for the job and who determined what the his salary will be. 

He should not have been considered as a candidate due to conflict of interest, and his appointment casts a shadow of corruption and perceived unethical behavior upon him and the Trustees that he appointed.  Allowing people to ask questions like: "Did he appoint these Trustees in return for a promise to make him the next University President?"  "Are they giving him a salary that exceeds outgoing President Cordova's salary, and is not commensurate with his lack of experience, because he appointed them to the Board?"  I expect the President's office and the Board of Trustees at my Alma Mater to be above reproach and I don't like the example that they are setting for the students (several of whom, by the way, have protested his appointment).  His appointment has already cost the University a one million dollar gift from one of Purdue's previous Dean's of the School of Education.  I've decided that I won't donate anymore funds to the University until he is no longer President (sadly, my little financial protest won't cost them anywhere near a million but because of me, maybe they won't be able to fill a soda machine).

After returning from South Haven I went to a "Walking School" at RHI (Rehab Hospital of Indiana).  This was a fascinating experience where Physical Therapists and amputees alike were trained on exercises developed by the two men who set the world records for Amputee Sprinting back in the '80's.  It was two hours of learning new exercises, sweating heavily in the heat and humidity of this exceptionally hot summer, surrounded by multiple Physical Therapists.  (Most of who were pretty young women, which is why I was willing to endure this new torture.)  (Just kidding, I went because my Physical Therapist asked me to, and even though I've been walking well for sometime now, there's always a chance that I could walk better.  As it turned out, after two hours of grueling exercises, I did feel like I was walking easier, faster, and felt like I was standing straighter in the prosthetics.

I don't get the opportunity to swim very often.  Maybe once a year if I'm lucky.  Swimming is hard.  My center of balance is completely different and when I try to swim or float I mostly thrash around trying to keep my head above water.  A noodle float provides some stability and I can actually stretch my body out while floating.  I can't tell you how good it feels to straighten my hips (as much as they will straighten due to tendon contractures) and be upright without the prosthetics on!  While in South Haven we stayed at a hotel instead of renting a cottage near the beach because we really haven't found a place that's accessible for me.  I tried to swim in the pool at the hotel, but again pretty much thrashed around until I decided to use the noodle.  It was a small and there were several other people in it so I felt fairly confined and somewhat in the way.  As much as I love the water, so far it just really hasn't been worth the effort to go swimming.

This past Saturday my Godmother, Cindy Reeves, was in town.  Mom, Dad, Sarah, and Madeline all have memberships to the Riviera Club (the Rivi), which is a private city club with a huge outdoor pool.  When I was a kid our family had a membership there and we spent a lot of time at the Rivi during the summers.  Sarah has had a membership for a couple of years, but I haven't been there since I was in junior high or high school at the latest.  Because Cindy and the rest of my family had decided to go to the pool I decided to give it a try.  Even if I didn't get in the water I would get to spend time visiting with my Godmother, which is a rare treat!

I hadn't realized how nostalgic it would feel to return to the Rivi after more than twenty years.  (It's a shock in itself to think about how much time has passed.)  As a private club, the Rivi is exempt from the ADA, but they have made some accessible modifications over the years.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get around, and after a while I decided to give swimming a try.  The water was cool, but comfortable.  Though there were a lot of people there, the pool was not overly crowded and I felt like I had enough room to actually try swimming before floating with the noodle.  I didn't swim much, but determined that the breast stroke is pretty much the best way for me to swim, unfortunately I'm not that good at the breast stroke but maybe I'll get better if I keep going back.  Since the accident, I've never felt more comfortable in a pool than I did at the Rivi.  Maybe it's because that's where I learned to swim the first time around...                 

Sounds like a neat month for you. I love the beach wheelchair; it really looks like fun. Glad you gave their business a boost--people who go the extra mile make life so much better for so many people!
It is good to hear that you got to do some fun swimming, and you are right about practice improving things--you would have enjoyed videoing me learning to use the zero-turn mower yesterday. (I guess I should check You Tube. I'm sure someone has remembered to grab a camera while laughing at a novice going in circles & zigging back and forth! :) Gives me a better appreciation of the retraining a brain needs when it has to learn a whole new way of doing a familiar task.
And hey! You posted before the 31st!!
Glad that you had a nice vacation. The beach wheelchair makes the sand easier to move over. I have seen beach carts here at Virginia Beach but no chairs. We do have a special area for chairs but not close to the main beach.
glad you had a good trip! love the pix:)
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