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An Interview with Mary Laver:
Power Chair Adventurer

An image of Mary Laver in her trusty Balder power chair. Mary Laver has not walked for twenty years, has no elbow or knee joints and is not able to scratch her own nose. Despite this, she plans to be the first person to complete the Lands End to John O Groats trip with a single power chair and in just four weeks. In this podcast interview we ask her why she wants to undertake the trip.

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Traveling the length of Britain in a power chair is going to be a long and arduous journey. Why did you decide to take on this challenge?

Because I needed the challenge, to be honest. I know it seems daft, but in 2006 I was in the Great North Run and I went up to a stand at the show and somebody there said do you want a challenge, and I went over and it was run the country and we had a good old talk and they came up with the challenge of pushing me in a marathon in South Africa (The  South African Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon).

We started the ball rolling and I got all my bits sorted out: an airline said they would let me go first class for second class tickets, I got my carers, I got my jobs and all sorts of things but my friends at Run the Country couldn't find a sponsor.

So, of course that still left me with this taste of adventure in my mouth. And I thought the one thing I wanted to do, but I have always been too bone idle to do to be honest, is the Lands End to John O' Groats. But being in a power wheel chair, I thought that was cheating so I contacted a guy called Jack Adams, and spoke to him by email, and we chatted about it, and he said you could do it in anything - and you can do it in a power wheelchair!

I went forward from that. I felt that I was back in control and in an adventure, whereas before adventure was really in the hands of other people.

I think it's a great idea...

So do I if I pull it off!

Your chosen charity, Arthritis care, has pulled out, I saw on your blog. Why did they pull out?

I think the best thing to do is to refer you to the letter, to be honest. I'm not being funny, but I've been expecting it. I think I have been expecting some help from them and I think basically they weren't up for giving their help. I was expecting the groups along the way would come out with a tin rattle and cheer me along the way, and they have come out with all the help and safety issues...

You don't think that's the real reason?

I don't know, I can't really judge what it is, but I personally think it has opened a can of worms, that letter. Not only for arthritis care, but the problem of health and safety and litigation - people are scared of doing things in case they are sued. And in the letter they say they have done this that and the other - well I can't get people from arthritis care who I do not know to come up with insurance because that is one of the things that they have said, isn't it?

Well, the stupid thing is that I have got it sorted. The process of actually getting the cyclist - I have a cyclist covered by insurance, I am covered by insurance... I personally think they wanted out. But the best thing to do is to refer you to them.

What are your feelings about that now?

I'm relieved. I was having to jump the way they wanted to jump, do you know what I mean? There were certain things they wanted me to do - even the cut off date which they wanted me to have, on the 11th May. But personally I would go to the starting line and start and hope people would help and if they didn't I would get in the van and come back, but they weren't prepared to do that. So, I am my own person again to be honest.

Are you looking for another charity?

If one will come forward, and if one will support me, at the moment I am just doing it for me.

Right, can you tell us a bit about what it is like to suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis? I saw from your blog that there are a lot of people suffering from it.

Mainly most, if not all people who have rheumatoid are in a lot of pain and take a lot of drugs - they're in a mess. But me, I'm not you see, I'm a great believer in alternative medicine and diet and I wrote a book called Diet for Life. I'm in very good nick and I don't take drugs, I never have done. The strongest drug I take is the odd paracetemol. And you know, a tin of paracetemol will last me whole year.

Even though I am in a wheelchair, and my joints have gone and I can't scratch my own nose and I have a fairly comprehensive care package in place I feel well, extremely well.

Great, can I ask you about your power chair, you are using an Alber Adventure power chair for the journey. Why did you choose this chair?

Yeah, I actually have seen it. When I went to the Nydex show here in Newcastle with the idea in the back of my mind and to find the power chair and I went to Alternate stand who I know very well and I told them what I wanted to do and they said this is the chair that you want because it is batteries batteries batteries - you have got to be able to change the batteries without getting out.

And the other thing you can do with the Alber Adventure is you can charge the batteries without them actually being connected to the vehicle. You can actually charge the batteries from the car. I've been in the chair and eight miles an hour in a power wheel chair, I tell you, feels fast. And it's just like sitting - well what I would imagine is like sitting, to me at least, in a formula one racing car - the formula one of wheelchairs. Just hope it lives up my expectations, to be honest.

What's the usual chair that you use?

The one I am in at the moment is a Balder. It's the Creme De Mont of wheelchairs, probably. You know this one goes up and down, and its ultra comfort and I've got my DHSS wheelchair which I use to go out and about in I'll have three when I get Albert next Tuesday

Do you know of any other adventures the Alber Adventure has been used in?

No, although I can tell you that one person did the end to end in a power wheelchair, and he used three a day, and he took 6 weeks... and another guy did it the other way in the year 2000 and tipped his chair over half way down so he didn't finish it.

But the Alber Adventure, no, and when you think about it these people are putting their chair on the line, and saying our chair is not up to the job, and if it is not up to the job, they're going to look like right idiots, aren't they? So I admire them for that, yeah, I admire them for that because they are standing there and they are ready to be counted. And I really do like the chair, they are doing a lot of modifications for it - which you can get anyway.

Is that Gerald Simmons who are supplying the chair?

Yeah, they are the suppliers - the adventure chair comes from Germany, but I am actually getting it on Tuesday at a hotel in Wakefield.

How much support have you received?

How much support? My support has come from my carers, so without them I wouldn't be doing it and my friends, two or three good friends, I've got a Scottish lady going with me, one of the guys from run the country is joining me as a cyclist, I think it is only one of the days, but mainly it has been my carers and my friends.

Has there been much interest from the media?

I am being interviewed by the BBC on Wednesday, and except for yourself and on Radio Newcastle the other day that's it.

What difficulties do you anticipate on the journey?

The roads I suppose, and the physical side of actually doing it because I have never actually done something like this before. I'll get the Alber Adventure on Tuesday and before I go I'll start doing a lot of training. Before I go hopefully I'll be up to forty miles a day. The endurance of it and tying everything together, which we are starting to do now, but me actually sitting there, in the chair, pushing my hand forward, and going, actually physically doing it...

How many miles will you be doing a day?

The average is about 35 - if you go on the blog it will actually tell you - we are going to try and stay off the main roads but follow the route as closely as possible, I have to be gettable It's no good me going off the track - if I break down or the chair breaks down then nobody can get to me so we have got be very careful like that.

You mentioned in your blog that fitness is very important to you. I wonder if you could tell me something about how you maintain your fitness and health.

Well, I can't do physical things, I am training with the power breather, although I am not doing as much as I should do - that's a breathing machine which you breathe in and it has a spring on it - you can get your cardiovascular - and then I follow a very organic natural diet - I'm not a vegetarian cos' I eat lamb and chicken. And I don't do things like smoke - I have the odd drink - I am a Guinness drinker. It's basically a healthy diet, and very good care. If I didn't have the care I get and the standard of care I get I think I would have pressure sores and all sorts of things because I am literally sitting down all day - I haven't stood on my own two feet for 20 years now. And I haven't got one pressure sore. And that is remarkable!

So who provides your care?

The social services - I am on what is called direct payments - I am given the money and then I buy my own care and pay my own carers, I actually employ my own care.

How are you preparing for your journey?

You mention in your blog that fitness is very important to you. How, as a sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis, do you maintain your fitness and health?

Do you have any message for other disabled people considering doing a challenge?

Just do it.

I know it sounds daft, but let me know what it is and I'll try and join you because I would love to do it. After I do this one, if I can do the end to end - somebody asked me this - I would like to go from one side of the USA to the other. And I would also like to do, more than any other thing, the Augrabies marathon with my friends from around the country. But I would love to meet other wheelchair users that have got the sense of adventure that I feel I have got, you know, I'm now 60 and I want to get out there, meet other people and have some fun.

Thank you Mary, we're really impressed with what you want to do and we think you are brave...

I don't think I am brave, I am just human and like everybody else except I have got four wheels instead of two legs, that's all

Good luck Mary.

Take care!

Support Mary Laver in her challenge - visit her blog, the Power Wheelchair 2E, or send a cheque towards the costs at the address below:

6 Croft Avenue,
Forest Hall,
Newcastle upon Tyne,
NE12 9JX

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