Xtreme Wheelchair Diving: In & Out of Crowds

My friend from college describes it perfectly: "It's like Moses parting the Red Sea." For those of us who use wheelchairs we appreciate the automatic path that opens up before us. It's a bubble of space that opens up for us, out of fear? Out of politeness? For the sake of saving their own toes? Whatever the reason may be, as someone with brittle bones, I like it. A lot.

When I am in my manual wheelchair my reflexes need to be cat-like. One hand needs to be ready to push forward on one wheel and then pull back on the other wheel for a quick dodge. Or if someone gets too close I might rear back on my hind wheels like a surprised horse (also known as popping a wheelie!) The whole time I'm navigating I am also spotting - psshh yeah right, not spotting for toes that get in my way, actually I am spotting for pockets of air, for open scenery, for an open space! And when I see one I will dart to it while glancing around to make sure no one else has spotted that space, and then the crowd will converge again and the process repeats itself. By now the motions are as familiar to me as untangling headphone wires. I know just how much to push or pull and where and when to be able to settle for two seconds of peaceful space. These moments of quick activity are one of the few times I actually,  I dare say, feel graceful and elegant with my disability.
Kids and adults with O.I have grown used to being automatically protective of themselves. It has become more than just instinct for me. When someone becomes too close too quickly I have already seen the part of me that they will collide with, what bone will break, and even a slight hint of what it might feel like. I imagine it's kind of like if anyone else were to remember that horrible taste in their mouth after that particular something they ate years ago. It's in part because of how protective my parents were of me as a young child, but it's also in part out of my own fear. We just don't want to get hurt again!

Then when I turned 10 and was in the 5th grade I got my first electric wheelchair. That was the moment everything began, that was when the gun for the race between Sandy and The Rest of The World went off. Diving in and out of crowds in my power wheelchair is A BLAST. Ask anyone who knows me or has seen me, it's like I am playing a game of Nintendo Wii every time I am in a crowd. I am grinning as I spot an open space and when I glance out from the corner of my eye I see someone quickly approaching, I press forward on the joystick a bit more and challenge myself to time it right: for me to get to that open space first. When I am leaving Fenway Park or any other event, friends I am with always follow behind me. "Sandy will clear the way.." is the usual agreement and I just, literally, plow ahead. It's fun, it's dangerous, and if my parents could ever know what I was up to...(well, we won't go there).
My skills at xtreme wheelchair crowd diving began in middle school. Then I perfected it during the four years of high school everyday during the 3 min of passing time between classes. There is nothing like dodging mountainous backpacks mounted on the shoulders of giant 14 to 17 year olds. It's not just the wheelchair that needs to move, but my shoulders, neck, and head need to dodge on time as well. Then in college the challenge was raised when I would head to clubs packed with people twisting their bodies to the music, the lights dimmed or in some cases completely off.

I say it's an xtreme sport because I'm never satisfied with that same bubble of open space for long. Sometimes the crowd will head towards my direction and it's time for another dart elsewhere, but most times it's because I have spotted another open space and enjoy the challenge of racing ahead to it. The unknown repetition of this motion keeps my days of sitting at right angles for 7+ hours interesting and even fun.

Xtreme Crowd Diving:

  • I am not saying that everyone with O.I should necessarily pursue this "sport" but please know that if you DO decide to try this, practice at a mall or a place with large open areas and ALWAYS be sure to be seat belted in!
  • If you accidentally run over someone's shoe or toe, please own up to it. Say "sorry" or make sure that the person is okay. You would want the same thing for you if you got hurt. 
  • When in a crowd and NO space is opening up, I have tapped people on their backs to and they have always moved aside. Most times no one hears when I say "Excuse me"
  • Use your best judgment, be safe first
  • I rarely, in fact I never pursue crowds alone. I am either with family or friends - this has helped on many occasions especially if I am accidentally bumped into or injured.  
  • When someone steps aside for you be sure to say "thanks!" If a person brusquely walks ahead of you/pushes you aside it can be interpreted as a rude gesture. Try not to be rude and always nod in acknowledgement or say thanks when someone has allowed you more space

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One Response to Xtreme Wheelchair Diving: In & Out of Crowds

  1. I can relate to so many things in this post! Ha! Where do I begin? I have had so many people trip over me. You do learn how to dodge and learn how to get out of the way before they end up on your lap. I love title you gave it,"xtreme wheelchair crowd diving" that is awesome! They should definitely add it to the paralympics! Crowds don't necessarily scare me but I do get uncomfortable, especially when I am behind people. I always get this image of them taking a step back and falling on me. Which has happened before and the guy (who was overweight) fell back into me and broke my leg. But that happened when I was a kid. You just learn how to navigate in crowds and know how close to get, etc. When I was in college I attended the football games (every student got a free ticket) and I remember I had to "go" and it was right before half-time, so I figured I'd go and beat the crowd. Apparently 100 women thought the same thing and had to wait in line. By the time I got out of the restroom, hundreds of people were everywhere. As I was making my slow descend back to my seat this guy was walking next to me. He made a comment about all of the people and he asked me where I was sitting and told him. Next thing I know he is screaming for everyone to move out of the way. Ha! He literally started to physically push people out of the way! The looks people gave that guy! Oh my God! I was expecting someone to throw a punch his way! So, I'm going along following him while he he plowing people down. The whole time I'm thinking, "this guy is awesome!" We reached our seats about five minutes later and I thank him and afterwards I start thinking, "wait a minute. Who exactly used who?" But I was alright with it because we both got to our seats in what would have taken an hour. lol. I always try to say "excuse me" but, like you, they NEVER hear me! I end up having to do a little tug on their shirts, which I hate to do. I don't like strangers touching me and I don't like touching strangers, so I'm sure they don't care for it either. One thing I don't have (and don't want) is an electric wheelchair. My doctor has been on me for years to get one. I just don't care for them at all. I figured I'd get lazier than what I already am and lose my arm muscles, which I don't want! Funny thing you mentioned backpacks in high school because I used to be knocked in the head by those things! I'm seriously surprised that I didn't end up with a head injury! It got to the point that I had to leave class a few minutes early to get to my next class. But I kinda took advantage of that! I don't care for clubs or bars becuase I know for a fact that some drunk will end up tripping over me and breaking me to pieces! lol. So I don't do anything like that at all.


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