Yes, I can, I can Back Wheel Balance!
Who asks the question?
Can I back wheel balance? Yes, I can! The great Back Wheel Balance is often known as a wheelie.
I have lost count of how many times people have asked, ‘I can pull a wheelie‘ in my wheelchair? Most of the time, it might be young children with wonderfully intrigued minds. Other times, drunks or stupid people who don’t know what else to talk to me about. Do they think I might be an alien sitting in a wheelchair and cannot think logically?!
I used to love wheeling my Raleigh Burner BMX or jumping off a ramp constructed from a worn old plank of wood, resting precariously on some old house bricks. Was it because I was a boy and needed to release some energy? Like taking risks or wanting to look cool?
After being hoisted from my bed to a chrome Carter’s wheelchair while still in rehab – I soon progressed to what seemed like a Ferrari of wheelchairs, a Quickie GPV. Sitting in this new, box-framed wheelchair felt so liberating compared to the shiny, uncomfortably high-backed, with massive swing-away footplates, wheelchair in which I had started my SCI journey.
I was now nestled in a light, ridged framed chariot with SIPs (side-impact protectors – the pads down the front bars of the wheelchair). I thought I looked the business!
But the wheelie needed to be learned. And learned quickly: I wanted to do stunts!
Back in the day, before the World Wide Web, if you didn’t have Sky TV, a few crap channels were your only choice of entertainment on the Idiot Box. Or, entertainment could come from a VHS videocassette recorder if you were lucky and could afford one?
While being a good ex-patient and using my Oswestry standing frame regularly, I stood with Boys N the Hood in the video machine. I was watching this LA gangster film, and I witnessed something that, I think, changed my life. A paraplegic actor, Reggie Green, played one character. In a scene, he was sitting on a porch with some ‘friends’ or gang members. He popped his wheelchair onto the back wheels and bumped down several steps. Stood, in shock and awe, I said to myself, I’m going to do that!
This was way before wheelchair backflips were easily accessible on YouTube, and people started charging around skateparks doing WCMX on half pipes. To see this dear devil leaving the decking with confidence bought my manly expectations to a new level.
Attempts & fails
There are some steps. About three. In the pub. I have confidence and mates on hand to grab me if it all goes pear-shaped. After several attempts with partial success, I think I got it?
In town. I spy some more steps. Again about three. I have had success with this skill. I can do it! This time I’m lucky. I’m with my old mukka, who grabs me at the last minute, as my front casters start to fall lower than my rear wheels. I know what’s coming; my mate must see it also. An arm comes out and hooks my torso and sits me back into the wheelchair in the few seconds it takes for the rear wheels to tumble down the stairs. This disaster was another lesson. Another reason to think why it went wrong?
And now I am confident. I am safe, and I am sensible. I no longer need to show off by proving I can descend several steps for the sake of it. If there are alternative means to change the surface height. Like a ramp, I use it.
Knowing when to attempt the crazy drop-down is the safest part of being able to do the skill. If the step you land on is smaller than the radius of the wheelchair’s rear wheel – I wouldn’t even attempt it. If you do, it can be scary, fast, and uncontrollable. It’s much more prudent to find a safer way down. Thanks to awareness and the DDA, there will likely be another way down.
Confidence in BWB can help negotiate rough terrain, gravel, and grass. If it weren’t for my control when my front wheels are elevated, I would be able to get to half the places I go. When faced with raised paving slabs or a pothole, grass or a gravelled drive, BWB helps negotiate these. Even just a little lift of the front wheels when pushing along will help prevent the wheelchair from suddenly stopping – which can result in disaster!
So, the message this blog is trying to portray is: learn skills, develop confidence and be safe!