My Ideal Wheelchair
After traveling in 40 countries on 6 continents, and engaging in extreme sports ranging from skydiving to scuba diving, from paragliding to trekking in the mountains, from cliff climbing to sailing, I have designed the ideal manual wheelchair system. I say system because it includes the chair and "must have" modifications and accessories.
Strength I often find myself in situations where strength is essential. Whether I'm scaling a cliff in Socorro, NM or bridge swinging in South Africa, I want to be sure my wheelchair is not going to fall apart. That includes the back, armrests,wheels, and foot rests. I don't even want to see so much as a bend in my wheelchair.That's why my ideal wheelchair is built out of titanium. The other advantage of titanium is that it is light. Unfortunately, it is very expensive. I would rather pay the extra bucks than find out the hard way that my chair just wasn't strong enough. The airlines bent up one of my chairs years ago. I want to make sure that never happens again.
Weight Weight is important because I am often lifted while in my wheelchair. Most of that time I am lifted by several people, as when I am hoisted up to the ship's crows nest, or hoisted up from a zodiac at sea. But usually, I am lifted only by 1 or 2 people. Getting onto sailboats or into small places, I am usually lifted by 2 people. My friend Davin, however, lifted me totally by himself when he brought me up all the steps to the Acropolis in Greece. Sometimes I have to make very tight turns and get lifted over all sorts of things, so I repeat, light weight is important.
Shape/Size My ideal wheelchair must be as small as possible. When traveling by boat through the jungles of Costa Rica, I took the wheels off the back, put my sea-legs (more on this below) down, and had my guide put me on the bow. You can't do that with any other wheelchair. I don't often sit on elephants or ride in rowboats but I do often need to take my rear wheels off so I can set the wheelchair on a bench seat. I have no trunk balance so I need to stay in my chair while using alternate transportation. For that reason I like to have at least a 12 inch straight tube under my chair, before it bends to attach to the front of the chair.
Modifications /Accessories There are 2 accessories and 1 modification I have found to be very invaluable. The first is a backpack, not the type with straps that wears out the chair back upholstery, but the kind made specifically for wheelchairs, that hangs on the wheelchair push handles. The second is called a "Catch All". It forms a net shelf under the wheelchair seat. It securely attaches with Velcro hook and loop to bottom horizontal and rear vertical frame tubing. It's a great way to utilize wasted space. Both items are available from the Advantage Bag Company. I've used these items extensively while backpacking around the world.
In the picture to the left, you can easily see the backpack. The catch-all is all but invisible. While exploring a cave in Texas, I needed to take my rear wheels off to fit through a narrow passage. Without rear wheels though, I needed someone to hold up the back of my wheelchair. That got old rather quickly. Later, while in traveling in Mexico I realized the need again for something I call sea-legs. I gave a design to our good friends at PROJIMO and asked them to make them for me. They worked well. Later, my brother redesigned and built them. They may look like anti-tippers but my sea-legs are designed to support my body weight in addition to keeping the chair from flipping over backwards. I call them sea-legs because I have used them extensively while sailing.
They are actually multi-use legs. If I find myself in a hotel with an inaccessible shower, I just have my attendant either put my chair (without wheels, with sea-legs down) in the shower and have him lift me into it. While in South Africa, on safari, I had him put me in my chair and we took the wheels off just before pushing into the shower. There have been times when traveling with someone not quite strong enough to lift me, I would take one wheel off and slide the chair right next to the bed. It was then easy enough to do a sliding transfer. Otherwise, my attendant would have to try and slide me over the wheel - not quite possible. When not in use, my sea-legs are in the up position.
There are many times I just need to fit into tight spaces. It is an advantage having a light, small chair. In the pictures below, you see these guys carrying me into a long tail boat in Thailand. You can even see one of my sea-legs in the first picture.
Whether I'm trudging through the snow on Everest or touring Thailand, these are the activities in which my chair must engage. I must be able to travel anywhere in the world without worrying about whether or not my wheelchair will brake. My Quickie GPV was poorly designed and made with inferior materials. My Invacare was really well designed and built EXCEPT at the time that I got it, the only quad rims available were ones with those metal 1" knobs, great for C-7 quads but not for C-5 quads like myself. I liked the shape of my Quickie but everything else on it was crap so I took the arms and brakes off my Invacare and put them on my Quickie.
Brakes Since my chair will need to be as narrow as possible when I take the wheels off, the brakes must be kept from protruding beyond the side of the wheelchair. Scissor type brakes should work. Color I don't want my chair mistaken for an airport chair or anyone else's chair. I want it to stand out, be easy to see. I therefor have decided I want it "Hummer" yellow like my Invacare above,
Sometimes I find myself on a steep hill, as I did when I went paragliding in Switzerland. In this case I just needed to take the rear wheels off so I didn't roll down the hill. In this case, I left my sea-legs in the up position. I use my sea-legs a lot while sailing. They are a must when I'm sitting on the bowsprit. I will redesign them though so that instead of coming down at a 90 degree angle, they'll come down at a 100 degree angle. I never know what kind of ship I may end up on so it's best to be prepared with a light, strong, small chair. Above and below, I'm on the Inventure off the U.K. coast. That's me on the right, aboard the above Junk named Aprodoo in Ghana. Back to Geno's Home