Back to the beach

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Life After Paralysis on September 13, 2019 # Mobility, Travel, Asbury

I live for the beach. The sound of crashing waves, the feel of warm sand in between your toes, the sunshine beaming on your face causing an infinite amount of freckles to appear out of nowhere, blonde streaking through a wintry mop of hair, and the smell of the deep South in all of its glory bog and all – these are some of my favorite things in the summertime. I even love a sandy bed!

You can’t beat the finer moments in life while you are sitting in a lounge chair, cold beverage in hand, Ray Bans on after slathering your body in sunscreen to avoid a wicked South Carolina sunburn, hanging out with close family, throwing Frisbees along the shore, reading a sultry novel under the beating sun, the sound of clanging horseshoes against the spikes while the crew enjoys a full day on the beach all the while awaiting happy hour on the creek side dock to watch an epic fireball of a sunset. This is, in a nutshell, my family vacation every summer in South Carolina. My entire close-knit family makes the pilgrimage, all five siblings and their children of all ages from all over the country to gather as one unit and cohabitate on the beach in a forgotten place that we like to call our second secret island home, Pawleys Island South Carolina.

Being an off the grid type of beach community, Pawleys Island doesn’t boast its accessibility options. Very few of the beach homes have elevators yet most are multistory, they lack wide enough doorways into bathrooms, homes rarely have roll-in showers and beach access is nil with high sand dunes and no pathway to get onto the beach even in public access areas. Because of this, the last four years of my quadriplegic lifestyle has stopped me from joining in the aforementioned family rituals on the beach at our special place. Depressing as it may sound, and it was, I would sit in my wheelchair on our ocean view deck from afar watching my entire family frolic on the beach, as I once did, without me in the mix. This was a hard place to return to after my injury, and I purposely missed the first year because of the mental difficulty returning to a place where running on the beach and riding my beach cruiser to the end of the island barefoot was no longer a reality. Yet as I quickly realized, staying home in Colorado during that week was a worse reality than not going at all. So, with some mental planning, I was determined to rejoin my family and our beloved island home for year two and have thus been going every year since. Family is family, they are my glue, and even at a distance during the day, I was able to join in evening activities inside our beach house to catch up with my loved ones.

The difficulty of getting me on the beach has been a real issue, and as my family and I evolve and learn through the process of adapting our environments, we have realized how to take common household items and exploit them for improving my mobility needs. This particular instance was the case the last couple of years ingeniously utilizing leftover roofing materials from the wintertime renovation project of our rented beach house to hopscotch me out onto the beach. By placing large plywood boards on the sand, I could roll out onto each piece of flat wood while a family member would hopscotch the next plywood board further down the sand until I made it down to where my family was hanging out. Quite laborious in the piercing hot southern sun, our plan worked yet it was exhausting and a little tedious for those involved. Yet having to transfer into my manual chair every day to lighten the load not to crush the plywood was discouraging my interest in my hopscotch daily activities year after year. There must… be… another way.

In the approach of this coming summer vacation and perusing the Internet for other options for beach access, I came across a company called AccessRec, an American family-owned business out of Clifton, New Jersey, that sell various designed products improving beach accessibility. Priding themselves on "affordability, quality, and efficiency", I found my answer – the AccessMat®. The mat is a non–woven polyester roll that, when rolled out onto the sand, provides a stable, safe and easy surface for even a power wheelchair to traverse over unsteady services like sand or gravel. Goodbye junky plywood and hello smooth riding surfaces, my new best friend at the beach, my blue AccessMat ®. The mat worked like a charm, and finally, after four long years of waiting to be part of my family's favorite Shangri-La, I got onto the beach to join them and rolled over the sand with confidence, a giant smile and a heart fulfilled by overcoming yet another challenge.

Anything is possible…