Free beach wheelchairs create opportunity Victoria couple thought was gone forever – Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News

Donna Seedorf-Harmuth and Phil Harmuth are having a good time together in Cox Bay. (Photo by Cathy Thicke)

The last time Donna Seedorf-Harmuth walked on a beach with her husband Phil was seven years ago in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

On November 19, 2019, the retired speech therapist was diagnosed with multiple system atrophy (MSA), a rare condition that causes symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. For people with MSA, the disease often progresses faster than in the case of Parkinson’s disease.

“I thought my beach walking days were over,” says Donna.

But last August, while on a getaway to Tofino, British Columbia, to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary and Phil’s 70th birthday, she was surprised with a beach wheelchair on free loan from Tourism Tofino. Her husband took her to the waterfront of Cox Bay, Long Beach and MacKenzie Beach.

“Being able to walk not just with me, but with friends along the beach was an incredible experience for her and really very uplifting. When you think something is done and it’s the last time you’re going to do it, and then be able to do it again… It’s a very powerful experience. It was a game-changer,” says Phil.

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Donna was one of the first to test out Tourism Tofino’s two new beach wheelchairs, available for rent to guests and residents. Jody Kirk, visitor and member services manager, said chairs are loaned out free with a $250 deposit, which can be waived if that’s a hindrance.

Jody Kirk, Visitor and Member Services Manager for Tourism Tofino, says the beach wheelchairs are easy to assemble and maneuver.  (Photo by Nora O'Malley)

Jody Kirk, Visitor and Member Services Manager for Tourism Tofino, says the beach wheelchairs are easy to assemble and maneuver. (Photo by Nora O’Malley)

“Now families can spend more time together on the beach. Ideally people would take it out for three days at a time, depending on availability, but we’re happy to be flexible with that,” Kirk said.

Costing around $5,000 each and acquired through the Accessibility Fund’s Youth Innovation Stream, the two beach wheelchairs are easy to assemble, waterproof and have large tires that won’t sink in the sand.

Donna and her husband Phil don’t let the MSA diagnosis bind them. They left for Santa Fe, New Mexico last week.

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“We have always travelled, all our lives. We’ve packed our kids all over Europe, all over Southeast Asia, Central America and the United States,” says Phil. “We have just decided that we are not going to be bound by this condition and that we are sitting at home waiting for this to progress.”

Retirees say traveling with a disability is a lot of trial and error.

“We still have our curiosity and our sense of adventure, but it’s just more cumbersome,” Donna says, noting that when they fly anywhere, they have to hand over her wheelchair as checked baggage. “It’s like checking your legs.”

Anyone interested in borrowing Tourism Tofino beach wheelchairs can contact [email protected] or call 1-888-720-3414.

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