When I was sixteen, I decided to undertake one of the most physically challenging feats of my life: to push myself in my wheelchair for ten kilometres to help raise money for a school in Kenya.
The ten kilometres ‘Walk For Water’ is a fund-raising event that every student in my school had to participate in yearly. It was mandatory, so of course, it was often done with a lot of groaning and complaining from some of the students. Usually, I just did what almost everyone else did and got my parents to sponsor me five euros each. I then participated in the walk by doing half-an-hour of laps around the gym in my wheelchair while the rest of the school did the long, ten-kilometre trek outside.
One year, after I was finished doing my laps (which I still found quite challenging), I told one of my friends to stop complaining about having to do the walk – the whole reason that we were doing it was because children on the other side of the world were suffering and needed our help. “You wouldn’t know what it’s like, Simone,” she replied, “You don’t have to do the walk like we do. It’s really hard.” Her remark got me thinking: ten euros wasn’t much, and was I really challenging myself as much as I could? So, I decided to propose the idea of me doing the full 10K course with the rest of the school in my wheelchair. Once the idea was accepted, I was too stubborn to back down – and if you know me, you know that I love a challenge.
Pushing myself in my wheelchair is extremely difficult – I have to work thrice as hard to keep up with someone who is walking at a normal walking speed. And if there are subtle slants and dips in the pavement which the average walker wouldn’t notice – it could make the ride more difficult. Most people don’t realise it but the majority of pavements are made on a slight slant and are rarely ever straight. If a path is on a slant – I have to push myself one-handed to stay straight. Also, since my fingers don’t have a lot of movement in them, I can’t grip the rungs of my wheelchair so I have to push it along with the palms of my hands which makes it even harder.
Training for the Walk
I had never gone as far as 10K before and I knew that it would be a tremendous challenge to complete. In preparation for the walk, I spent months training. I went out every day to do laps at the park by my house. I made sure to push myself on the tough, gravely path because I knew that if I trained on a difficult path – a smooth path would seem easy in comparison. I did five big laps every weekday and ten laps every Saturday and Sunday.
I sweat, screamed, and sprinkled my hands with bruises and blisters. Whenever I felt like stopping or giving up, I imagined falling behind the rest of the school as they did the Walk For Water and used it as motivation to thrust myself forwards. I worked my back and arm muscles like never before and kept pushing myself as far as I could go.
I had quite a few adventures while I was out and about too: people would often stop me and ask me what I was doing, or they told me about their incredibly interesting lives. I once almost jumped into a lake to escape a snarling, snapping dog while I was training, I had a huge spider fall onto me out of a tree, and sometimes I had to ask for help from others when my wheelchair became stuck or I fell out of it. One of my fondest memories from when I was out training, was when two children approached me. They asked me some questions, and then I let them push me for a little while – one handlebar each. They were so adorable, and both so happy to help me out by pushing my wheelchair for a bit. I hope that they were able to learn something from spending a little bit of time with me.
I also spent much more time trying to find sponsors – unlike my previous years doing the walk. I gave a talk about the walk at my local church and sought help from my family members. The result was incredible: I was sponsored around 550 euros for the charity – much more than my usual ten euros! I truly hoped that I would be able to complete the course and not let my sponsors, or the children at the school in Kenya, down.
The Day of the Walk
On the day of the walk, I was tremendously nervous. I had so many hopes hanging off my ability to complete the 10K challenge. I truly wanted all of my months of training and every euro that I had raised to have been worthwhile. I wanted to do it for charity, but I also wanted to do it for every student that complained about having to walk the 10K, and to show everyone that I had no limits when I was determined to succeed.
The school placed me in the walking group that left first, so that if I fell behind, I could just join the group behind them (the groups each had ten minutes distance between them). My father also came to school to do the walk with me so that I could have some supervision if I had to fall back on my own. Even though I was allowed to fall behind, I made it a personal mission of mine to be able to keep up with the first group.
The walk went well at first. The path started out fairly smooth and straight so I could keep up with the others and conserve most of my energy for later on. Eventually, my father and I did fall behind on a long, difficult road. So I picked up the speed, and after half an hour, we were able to catch up with the others again. It was funny because the others were walking at a slow walking speed; slow enough for everyone to be able to talk with their friends and play games with each other – but I was sweating and huffing and puffing next to them, working like crazy just to keep up. Due to parental instinct, sometimes my father started pushing my wheelchair when he saw that I was really struggling, but I instantly stopped and threw my brakes on if he did – I was determined to do the whole thing on my own without help.
The two hardest parts were when we went along an extremely long walking path that went alongside a motorway (highway). It seemed to go on forever with no end – that’s when I came the closest to giving up. But I kept going, muscles screaming, mind focused on one thing – making it to the end and not letting my sponsors down. I simply shut my mind off and focused on the rhythmic movements of pushing my wheelchair. If I hadn’t, I don’t know how I would have been able to push through.
The other hardest part was at the very end: to make the course ten kilometres long, we had to do two laps around the school’s sports track. The sports track is an all-weather-field, so it is covered in sand which is a nightmare to push wheelchairs through. I was relieved that I had trained on a rough terrain because that track was one of the toughest that I’d ever pushed myself on, and after doing hours of the walk already, I needed every ounce of strength left in me to complete it. Luckily, the track was near the school so there were many students and teachers there who helped me by cheering me on.
But I made it in the end! I was absolutely ebullient and relieved – I’d never done something so physically challenging in all the sixteen years of my life. But now I knew that I could push myself past limits that I had never thought possible if I was focused and determined enough. As soon as I got home from the walk, I had a hot shower and completely scrubbed myself down. My hands were covered in bruises and blisters and I had dirt caked deep in-between my fingernails. I needed more than one full day of rest to recover, but I was still so happy – I had made it!
At a school assembly, the headteacher mentioned me and the challenge that I had taken on. They said that I had done something that was harder than anyone else that year and that I had raised the most amount of money for the charity! 550 euros was more than some class totals put together. Because I raised the most, I was rewarded with a free lunch with a plus one at the pancake restaurant next door to the school. Most of all, I was ecstatic about being able to achieve something like this and to have helped out the charity so much. I have to give a lot of credit to my local church for helping me to raise most of the money, and to my friend who unknowingly pushed me to aim higher. I hope that in the future I can keep doing what I can for charities, especially disability charities, so that I can continue to make a difference.
That’s it from me – thank you so much for reading! If you like my blog, please share it with others. See you next week!
Image Citation: https://www.walkforwatersg.org/?lightbox=dataItem-j11o4sxc6