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The beach is theirs again

A special wheelchair lets the disabled enjoy the sand and surf.

By MARLON A. WALKER
Published August 13, 2006


PASS-A-GRILLE - John W. Brown watched eagerly as his feet were splashed by a small wave near the shore behind the Seaside Grille.

It was the first time that he was able to get anywhere near the water in 20 years.

"I love having the water sloshing over my feet," said Brown, 83, beaming as he navigated the waters along the shore with the help of Jim Myers.

The special wheelchair housed at the Seaside Grille, 900 Gulf Way, has made it so that Brown, who has peripheral neuropathy, can do one more thing that he used to do before he started using a wheelchair.

"It's like a new experience for me," Brown said.

The wheelchair replaces one that for years brought hundreds of disabled people to the water so they could enjoy the sand and waves. Millard Gamble purchased that chair and donated it to the city about seven years ago.

Gamble said his interactions with a disabled fisherman on Pass-A-Grille motivated him to get the chair.

"I just think it's a good thing," he said. "If I were in a wheelchair, I'd love to be able to wheel around the beach, wouldn't you?"

Myers, chairman of the city's leisure services committee, led the efforts to get a new chair when the old one was deemed unfit for use. When Gamble found out that the city needed a new chair, Myers said, he quickly jumped up and donated the money again.

"He came through in the blink of an eye," said Myers, 64, a retired guidance counselor with Pinellas County schools.

The new chair, which cost about $2,400, is stainless steel with a green seat and support straps to hold the occupant in the chair. The tires are larger than those of a normal wheelchair, which help with sand and water navigation.

On Tuesday morning, Myers, Gamble, Brown and several others took the chair out for another spin. It was Brown's second straight day using the chair, and Myers would take him into the water so far that his feet were nearly submerged.

"I wouldn't mind doing this again," he said, smoking a cigarette and finishing his morning coffee. "This has opened up the beach for me again after 20 years."

Marlon A. Walker can be reached at mwalker@sptimes.com or 727 893-8737.

DISABLED AND BEACHBOUND

Volunteers are on hand from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday to help people with certain disabilities get to the water using a special sand- and water-resistant wheelchair. The Seaside Grille, 900 Gulf Way, St. Pete Beach, where the wheelchair is housed, is closed Wednesdays.

[Last modified August 12, 2006, 11:48:21]


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