Andrew Healey, in the yellow helmet, at the Lee Valley White Water Centre
One consequence of my spinal injury, the result of a helicopter crash in 1985, was that I missed my brother Nick’s wedding in Australia. Keen to make up for that at his first anniversary, my new wife Linda and I pumped up the wheelchair tyres and headed off to Queensland. Since then I have travelled widely, to places such as Tokyo and Los Angeles on business, and on camping holidays to France with our three children.
I swim and handbike, a sport coming to a Paralympics venue near you soon. I love scuba diving, though I have difficulty with currents, and I’m also planning a canoeing trip down the Wye next year. Most of our family trips have involved making concessions. Once, a large bathroom said to be accessible turned out, on day one of a two-week holiday, to have a door too narrow for my chair. So for our recent silver wedding anniversary, I was determined that no stone would be left unturned.
I wanted direct flights, big bathrooms, an in-house Padi centre and stuff for Linda to do while I was underwater. The Calabash Hotel in Grenada (calabashhotel.com, doubles from $710 B&B) ticked all the boxes. It offers ground-floor suites and level access to the Scubatech dive shop, which takes you to the local sites in a pirogue, saving wheelchair users having to bum-shuffle down the beach.
Back in the UK, we’ve just come back from a post-Olympics visit to Jersey, my home town. We took our own car on the ferry from Poole. Local hire companies have yet to be convinced to adapt some of their fleet for disabled drivers. We ate at the very swish Sumas restaurant at Gorey Harbour (01534 853291, sumasrestaurant.com), which – I know from experience and thus plan for – has no disabled toilet, and the ever-reliable Pizza Express at St Brelade’s Bay, which does. It is all a question of space but I’m not aware of any encouragement or legislation to make all island establishments look at improving access.
After 27 years in a wheelchair my spine had become quite bent out of shape, and I was unaware, until I visited Grayshott Spa in Hampshire (grayshottspa.com), that it might be the cause of some additional nerve pain. Massage therapist Elaine Williams is rated as one of the top 10 in the UK and she certainly knows her muscular-skeletal stuff. As a regular customer now I feel like a new man.
The Lee Valley White Water Centre (visitleevalley.org.uk, rafting £49pp) reopens on 8 September, the first of the London 2012 venues to do so. Last year my sons and I took a rafting trip on its foaming torrents and had the time of our lives. It’s great as long as you don’t mind wearing a yellow “special needs” helmet that identifies you as a priority, I trust, if a rescue is ever required.
Source: The Guardian