Pamela's Ocean Swims
I’ve always loved swimming in the ocean. My mother started me swimming underwater as a baby followed by swimming lessons as a little kid so I was pretty confident in the water. Even screaming cold water didn’t deter me from diving under a few times. After, I’d run out and lie on my back, hands dug into the hot sand for warmth.
At seventeen, I was in a very bad car accident that broke my back, paralyzing me at T6. I made it through with the help of my friends and two cousins.
One day, my cousin and I stopped at the beach and he said “Let’s go in!” It was my first time in the ocean since the accident. He carried me into the water, both of us fully dressed, to see if I’d sink or float. I floated like a damn cork! I wasn’t sure I liked this new way of being in the ocean and I didn’t go in again for a while after that day. I did try again, though, with no one holding on to me. I turned onto my stomach and could actually do the dog paddle and a shallow breast stroke. I still floated like a cork and couldn’t get my bum under water for anything, but I could move up and down the beach and people-watch inconspicuously without my wheelchair in tow. I could go where I wanted and no one had any reason to stare or notice me.
At some point I tried to do the crawl and it worked except for the breathing part because without being able to use my legs as rudders, I’d start to flip onto my side when I turned my head to breathe. So I’d just take a deep breath and swim as far as I could before I’d have stop to get more air. What I loved was getting in, taking a big gulp of air and swimming straight out as far as I could go. Then I’d turn to face the beach and think how lucky I am to be able to get away like that, all by myself where I could contemplate the world.
If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll try to do whatever it is that you did before your injury, or perhaps something new. It probably won’t be exactly as it was before; not as smooth, effortless, fast, relaxing or thrilling but you can still own it. It will be good for your mind. It can still be your sport or hobby, and you’re still an athlete, swimmer, dancer or musician. You can still be excellent and proud of what you do.
Answers to questions you might have:
How do I get in and out of the ocean? This is the million dollar question. I use a beach chair, which most public beaches have these days (Find out which beaches in MA have them HERE ). The catch is that I need someone to be with me to push the chair over the sand and into the water. Once the chair is about two feet into the water I can float off it and swim. When I’m ready to come out I signal by waving to my friend on shore and he brings the chair in about two feet and I climb back on and get pulled out.
Am I afraid of sharks? YES!! Ever since I saw that movie (you know which one), I used to swim out deeper than anyone. Now I stay close to shore with hopes that maybe some brave soul would shoo the shark away and rescue me if I’m not too far away. Good news, there's a better chance of being killed by a cow than a shark in the United States!
How much do these beach chairs cost? They start around $750 for a basic chair and go up from there. There is only one chair that is designed to float in the water. Almost all the others will tip over in the water so are good for going over the sand only. I also find that all are difficult to transfer in and out of because the fat tires are in the way of pulling your wheelchair up close to the seat.
Caveat : I am in the process of designing a beach chair that is high enough for easy transfer and low enough to keep the center of gravity a few inches below the water line. I have a patent for it and am now looking for a manufacturer. If anyone knows anything about manufacturing, I’d love to talk.
I’m also happy to talk more or answer questions about beach chairs or swimming in general, so please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Remember to have fun, stay safe, and be a little brave. You won’t regret it.