Life's a Beach

When you’ve got an annoyingly pesky disease like multiple sclerosis, some of life’s pleasures become a touch more complicated to enjoy properly. Take, for instance, the beach.

Walking aids like canes and forearm crutches suffer in the deep sand. Wheelchairs and walkers? Verboten. And then there’s the heat—hot days, hot sand, hot sun. Even the water can be paralyzing. Literally, at least for me. If it’s cold and I dip a foot in, my whole body violently convulses. So if I were to wade willy-nilly into the ocean, my last words to Mother Nature would almost certainly be something along the lines of “don’t tase me, bro” before I thrash, collapse and then vanish under the froth of two-foot surf.

But there are things one can do to make a beach excursion a bit more enjoyable. For starters, go on a cooler day, or at least go during a cooler part of the day (mornings are good). Always tote shade. Icy drinks and a cooling vest are standard weapons. If you use walking aids like forearm crutches, trekking poles and canes, tips that can handle sand are quite helpful. And coolest of all, borrow a beach-friendly wheelchair. Yes, they exist. Lifeguard stations at popular beaches may have one or two, just ask. That’s what I did on a recent San Diego trip and was surprised to find that the city’s best beaches had both manual chairs (you need a pusher) and motorized chairs available on a first-come, first-served basis.

With huge inflatable wheels that look like doughnuts the size of Homer Simpson’s belly, these chairs just bounce over the sand, inspiring finger-points of envy from every child under the age of 12. To up the awesome factor, aim for the water and you’ll find it floats! (Much to my chagrin, the motorized chairs do not feature a propeller—I’m smelling a marketing idea here.)

I’ll be honest, it was the most fun I’ve had on the beach—and in the ocean—in years and years, way before I even had MS. It took me back to my childhood when I would spend entire summers at the community pool. I was that tanned kid with a big smile and bleached, sandy white hair, the one who rode his 3-speed banana-seat bike in his bare feet anywhere and everywhere. I was free. While my beach wheelchair might have lacked a banana seat, I was a kid again. And I was free again.