Dip brings squeals of joy

New beach wheelchair a hit at Whangamata

Alison Smith





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Paige Mcleary couldn’t keep her excitement under wraps as she was wheeled into the cool clear waters of Whangamata Beach at Christmas time. The 25-year-old was able to enjoy the sea again as she was among the first to book a new beach wheelchair in Whangamata. “It’s been so long since I’ve been in the water I can’t even remember,” said the Tauranga woman. “It was warm, I kept going back in the water and I’d go out for a while, then I would go back in. It was lovely.” Paige was holidaying further south at her family’s bach in Whiritoa. Her dad Glenn says his daughter used to be small enough that he could physically carry her to the water but storms have left Whiritoa tricky to enter and his daughter has grown too big to carry. The wheelchair enabled the family including Glenn, Paige and younger sister Millie to be together again in the sea at Whangamata. The joy of the event drew beachgoing well-wishers. The chair is already being enjoyed by several holidaymakers after local charity Toes in the Water Whangamata set up a community meeting at the end of September. They quickly assembled a committee, received generous donations and community support. Rose Drake and Donna Lowrie, members of the Toes in the Water Whangamata committee, said another local is building a website allowing people to book the wheelchair and the group wants volunteers to get the chair out and clean it down after use. They hope with enough volunteers it should only require being available a day a month to help out with bookings. “It is so rewarding,” says Rose. “It brings tears to your eyes.” Photos of another user, Judith, who had not been in the sea for more than 20 years was a hit on local Facebook pages. The group say beach matting and a shed at the beach near Whangamata SLS Club is being arranged and they want more people to know about the chair. “We’ve had people walking on the beach come up to us and say ‘my Mum, who’s passed away, would’ve loved this — here’s a $500 donation’. We’d like to acknowledge the community support that we’ve had, it has been phenomenal.” Waihi Beach is another community that has fundraised to make its beach accessible to all. Jacqui Whyte started the Accessible Waihi Beach Project with a social media post expressing how her husband Hemi could not access the beach. Hemi has spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1), a rare disorder similar to Huntington’s disease. He was diagnosed five years ago. Jacqui says Hemi went from working fulltime, being an active dad who loved to swim, fish and boogie board at the beach, to being in a power chair unable to walk, drive, or shower unaided. The community responded and two beach wheelchairs were donated, followed by the beach mat project guided by Waihi Beach Community Events & Promotions’ Cindy Clare and resident Dave Maccalman, of the Halberg Foundation. The last stage of the mats was completed last week and an opening do was held — celebrated by the HC Post in October 2021. Glenn Mcleary paid his membership donation to continue accessing it for his daughter whenever they holiday on the Coromandel. “It was lovely on the beach with the amount of people that came up to us,” he said. “Given the last couple of years we’ve had I think it’s nice when people have something else good to focus on.” Meanwhile, Paige says her next goal is to get on the mountain. “I’ve always wanted to try disabled skiing, I like to give things a go.” There are Toes in the Water donation boxes around Whangamata and donors include Manco Environments, Sterling Construction, Direct Group, Te Rapa Cars, Whangamata Club Inc, Whangamata Ocean Sports Club, Whangamata Lions Club, Whangamata Go Carts and Tipinui Motel. While the website is being set up, you can book by sending a message to Toes in the Water Whangamata at 0210 8858939 or via Facebook messenger.