The World Comes to Wheels
Throughout September, Great Britain has been thrilled by the achievements and skill of Paralympic athletes from around the world. We’ve all watched remarkable athletes do amazing things, but sadly, many athletes and teams arriving from poorer countries don’t have their own wheelchairs or well-fitted aids at home, and have had to borrow wheelchairs, or make do with sharing them to get around at the games. Many of these athletes, and some of the teams supporting them, will be going back home without the wheelchairs that could improve independence and access to work, life and training.
Wheels for the World, part of the disability charity Through the Roof, was contacted about this need for wheelchairs by Dr Fred Sorrells of the International Institute of Sport, and arranged two days working at St. John’s Church in Stratford to provide properly fitted wheelchairs and crutches for delegates who needed them. Wheels for the World is used to taking donated chairs from the UK, refurbishing them in a workshop on Parkhurst Prison, and then distributing them to developing countries where many don’t have the opportunity to buy their own chair, so a distribution in East London was a very different experience for the team. But it was a distribution that had the same effect, with the gift of a chair improving the independence of many of the clients, including Mary. Mary is a paralympic athlete from Kenya, competing in discus, shot-put and javelin – she won silver in Beijing. She had polio at the age of 3 and makes her living selling goods at the roadside. Even getting to her training depends on inconsistent transportation, and her new wheelchair will mean she’s able to work and get to her coaching much more easily.
Over the two days of distribution, Wheels assessed 53 clients (including athletes, team leaders, medical staff, admin staff and even a couple of chefs) from 26 different countries, giving out chairs, crutches and rollators plus repairing and tuning up several damaged chairs.