I think I will miss going to the beach the most until the day I die. Strolling on the water’s edge on the sand made firm by the sea water running there and back for eternity, cool water kissing my feet and ankles, squishy sand oozing through my toes, hot sun warming and browning my skin. Turning cartwheels on the firm sand. Running into the water at full speed then diving into an oncoming salty wave. Ducking underwater, dodging dangerous looking big waves. Swimming fast to catch a ride to shore on friendly waves willing to carry me. Being taken by surprise by sneaky powerful waves that knock me down and under, spinning me around until I no longer know which way is up. These are some of the joys of going to the shore.
The beach turned on me when I became disabled. I had a severe stroke when I was 35 and six months pregnant. The baby is now 19 years old. The entire left side of my body became paralyzed. I made a dramatic recovery, but was left with lingering physical deficits that make enjoying the beach nearly impossible. My sense of balance is still very poor. My left foot is paralyzed. I limp and carry a cane. Walking in the sand requires a great deal of assistance. Swimming in the ocean is not possible. I can count the times I have visited the seashore since 1999 on one hand. I remember spending a lazy week on New Jersey’s Long Beach Island every summer with friends. They have only invited me once since I became disabled. I think that week was too difficult for me to deal with and too difficult for them to watch because of the new, severe limitations. Where I once jogged around looking sexy in a bikini, I couldn’t get into a bathing suit on that trip and wore sneakers with a brace on my leg. I still enjoyed the company on the deck at the house, but was mostly depressed after dragging myself to the beach and being parked in a chair, unable to get up and about. I enjoyed looking at and listening to the surf, but missed the rest of it terribly.
I have had a few more visits to the shore where I was severely limited as far as enjoying the experience. Sometimes I could walk out across the sand on a boardwalk or paved path, or sit on the boardwalk and watch the surf. My husband walked me into the ocean up to my waist once on vacation.
I have had to adapt myriad activities due to being disabled. My family and I went on safari in Kenya with a company that specializes in safari for the disabled. They will provide as much or as little assistance as you need. My husband and son wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro while we were there, and the tour company offered to arrange this trip for me, as well. Climbing was out of the question, but they had access to guides who would carry me the whole way. I was sure this was not the way I wanted to “climb” Mt. Kilimanjaro, especially considering the expense involved. Maybe someday.
Our tour ended in the coastal town of Mombasa at a beautiful beach resort on the Indian Ocean. The water was calm, warm and gorgeous. I felt a strong urge to get in the water. I figured if there were men who could carry me up Mt. Kilimanjaro, there must be someone who could take me in the ocean. The men in my family did not feel confident. I asked our tour directors if they knew of anyone who could carry me in the ocean. They said they would bring me the beach wheelchair, and that my family could take me in that. The chair was called the tiralo.
The weather was perfect the next day when Yvonne dropped the tiralo at our hotel. It was a three wheeled vehicle with fat tires that could roll on the beach and in the water. I sat in it like a toddler in a wagon. There was a handle my 15 and 13 year old sons used to pull me along. They were thrilled to have me as their captive. I was elated to be in their hands. My husband was shooting video of the whole event.
We started at the top of a long hill that led down to the beach. I was given no sign to be ready when I suddenly found myself running down the hill at full speed. It was a thrill, but I still screamed in fear in order to give my sons the desired effect. We laughed a lot in between screams.
We got to the bottom of the hill where there were two cement steps down to the beach. I wanted to stop and engineer my descent. My sons were too quick. They pulled me down the steps. It was a hard hit at the bottom of each. The sand was soft and we continued to run straight into the water. No time to think or test the water. We went directly in. It felt great. It was warm. The tiralo floated on two plastic pontoons. I floated around, going over gentle waves. My husband joined us. I never imagined after that week on Long Beach Island when I was barely able to get around that I would ever be in the ocean with my husband and both sons. The Indian Ocean, no less. It felt like a miracle!
For the most part, the waves were small and gentle and a joy to float over. One strong wave rolled in and flipped the tiralo over with me in it. A pontoon separated from the float. I am not able to swim unaided. The water was too deep for me to stand in.
I briefly went underwater. My 15 year old son swooped in to my rescue. He is very strong and sturdy. We started walking toward the beach, but I fell repeatedly due to an inability to gain secure footing in the soft, soaked sandy ocean floor. When he picked me up for the third time, he said “C’mon, Mom, just walk!” I have not been able to walk normally since he was 2 years old. It didn’t seem logical that I could take some steps but not be able to continue until we got to the shore. There was no distress, only comedy. I think he felt like the hero he was. I knew he would get me safely out of the water.
I don’t remember how many times I fell and got back up. I just know we laughed a little harder with each fall. Once ashore, I needed to sit down since walking in the sand required too much effort and assistance. We cobbled the tiralo together so I could sit in it. It was road worthy, but not ocean going. Fortunately, my sons were able to pull me back up the hill to the hotel.
I contacted Yvonne to let her know that the tiralo was broken. I was either brave or foolish enough to want to try it again. She picked it up and said she would have it repaired and returned the next day.
I had the same nerve rattling ride down to the beach the following day. My sons had caught on to the fact that my screams were just for effect so they didn’t try anything new to excite me. It turned out to be a beautiful day at the beach with my family. The tiralo held up and carried me through a delightful ride. I now know that adapted enjoyment of pleasures I had enjoyed in the past are better than not doing them at all.