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January 2021 Issue
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Wheels in motion

Peter Thompson with his ViMo wheelchair which allows users to more easily access the outdoors. Photo: Roy Sinclair

A new wheelchair promises to open up access to many tracks and trails for those who cannot explore them on foot. By Roy Sinclair

“Here it is,’’ wheelchair designer Peter Thompson says. “Have a seat and I’ll take you for a spin.’’

Looking at the rough terrain of his property on the outskirts of Greytown, I was sure I would be in for a lurching ride. The previous day I had taken a tumble and was nursing a painful cracked rib.

To my immense relief, my painful ribs are no problem. Each wheel adjusts as the wheelchair negotiates the undulations. The ride is smoother than I could have imagined.

Thompson, a mechanical engineer, became a caregiver after his wife, Ginny, had a severe stroke at 49. For their own wellbeing, it was essential to get outdoors but a conventional wheelchair was too cumbersome.

“Getting out in the environment is beneficial and I wanted to inspire Ginny,” Thompson says. “We wanted to get about the farm and cross the occasional riverbed. We needed something I could push easily while not giving Ginny a jarring ride.”

Ginny’s situation spurred him on. He surmised his innovation would need to be designed with the caregiver in mind as opposed to the person sitting in the wheelchair.

“If the concept doesn’t make it easy for the caregiver, nothing is going to happen.

“It would need to be lightweight, rugged, safe and easily foldable. This last point is essential to enable it to be stowed quickly in a vehicle during rain.’’

His concept has 16-inch wheels at the front and 12-inch wheels on the back.

The wheels can be quickly changed for different terrain and indoor use.

Features needed to be limited to save on weight.

“It’s definitely a case of less is more,” Thomspon says. Even so, he has developed an electric motor accessory. Some components are manufactured overseas. Others are made locally. Thompson does the final assembly and testing on his farm.

Through an occupational therapist, he gave one of his wheelchairs to Merle Bradley in Hokitika to trial. Bradley loves the outdoors but lives with motor neuron disease.

Soon, she was out visiting the beach and exploring local trails.

“Merle sent me a photo,” says Thompson. “She was being pushed through a ford. Water was splashing everywhere and she had an ear-to-ear grin.”

Thompson patented his invention ViMo – vitality in motion – and is working with DOC to trial the wheelchair on the Abel Tasman Coast Track and the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail.