Disabled trip down the Coruh - BCU Expedition report

by Dave Manby

I was drifting down the Grand Canyon of the Colorado when the idea of a trip for people with disabilities crystallised. The Canyon isn't really a challenge. The white water is not what it is trumpeted to be, there is a small industry offering advice and services: menu planning, shuttle services, raft hire, helicopter scouting. The challenge is: will there still be beer left when you get to Diamond creek - not really a challenge. I like real challenges.

A year later found us on the Coruh. For the first ten days we paddled the river. Maggie, with her confused vision, balance problems and walking difficulties caused by being avalanched in the Alps, surfed a wave and grinned; Steve, totally blind since birth, paddled a single kayak down various rapids with no problem till Frank got distracted and stopped talking; Dave Tuttle, T9 paralysed after falling out of a tree, tried the double kayak, the dukkie, and then settled for strapping himself to a modified raft-frame to enable him to row the raft; Keith, despite his Spina Bifida need for a wheelchair, fitted into any boat that was spare; Donald only 72 years young, was there telling us again (and again) about the last time he was here; Bob, with Polio in both legs and already a veteran of the Coruh from a previous year, just enjoyed being back on the river; Ross was always improvising improvements for everyone; Alan and Jon full of the boundless energy of youth could always be counted on to lend a hand either in camp or on the river; Andy and I just guided things; I think it's called facilitating.

Just as we were getting tired and people were wanting a rest or something extra, Project R.A.F.T. turned up. So it was back to Erzerum with us holding up the marching bands, the parade and the opening ceremony with our sticks and wheelchairs. Then it was down to the banks of the Coruh again and the competition. We came thirteenth in the orienteering event out of the thirty two teams entered. But we were one of the only five teams to get all the check points. We had an advantage; I had run the river over twenty times and had had some input into the design of the course! We didn't cheat: we collected all the check points properly, we left a wheelchair on the side of t he road and carried Dave Tuttle from the raft to the road for him to wheel/run up the road to and from the check point before being carried back to the raft. Steve, with me guiding, collected four other points on the 3 kms. loop run up round to the castle and back down to the river. We put in a protest - none of the numbers were in Braille!

We competed in the slalom event handicapped; in the kayak event, because we used double topolinos as opposed to single kayaks and in the raft event because we used a raft with a rowing frame and oars (a severe disadvantage). At the end of our raft run we were arguing; we should have done better, we had not trained, we had no one person calling the shots, we were not a cohesive team. We came last. When the recriminations subsided into a tactful silence I remarked to Dave, one time Scottish down river champion, that his competitive spirit had returned. "Never went away" came his reply with a grin. We had a lot of grins over the three weeks.

For me personally, the highlight was the rescue event. This event was a major challenge for us; we had to paddle down the river, pick up a swimmer, pass through a gate, flip the raft, paddle the upturned raft through another gate, right the raft and then paddle the raft to the bank and clip it to a rope and then all grab the finish pole. The kayak paddler had to paddle down through the same gates and perform an Eskimo roll in between the gates before sprinting to the finish. Bob, our kayak paddler, made it to the finish line where he had to drag his boat up the bank on his hands and knees - he had forgotten his sticks. The raft run went to plan, though we had a somewhat imaginative interpretation of the rules. Blind Steve swam out to the raft with no problem, we flipped the raft paddled through the gate righted the raft and all made it to the bank. The bank was not wheelchair territory and we took the slightly controversial action of moving the finish pole down to the raft paddlers. We came second to last but were the crowd's winners. The Californian team, the actual winners of the event, gave us their gold medals as a recognition of "the inspiration and example to all of us". As one hard-bitten competitor said to me as we carried everyone back to their sticks and wheelchairs, "That was amazing, it even jerked a tear from me"

Team Members

Dave Tuttle, Ross Purdy, Maggie Taylor, Steve Pimm, Jon Pearson, Allan Ellard, Dave "Frank" Charles, Keith Butterworth, Bob Boyce, Andy Watt, Martin Ellard, Donald Bean, Me.