Finding a way to take disabled youngsters up to the highest point in Central Scotland was a challenge that was not going to defeat Gordon McGregor. The founder of Paradventures had been helping people with disability take part in outdoor activities for decades.
When he couldn’t find a wheelchair that would allow him and his team to take people across rough terrain, he decided to design one himself. In collaboration with Strathclyde University, Gordon developed the all-terrain Paratreker, which has already attracted interest from Europe and Canada.
“I am one of these people who thinks, if there is a challenge, then just get on and find a solution,” says Gordon. “When you take people out and see the joy and excitement they have of going to places they have never gone to before, it is quite an incredible experience. Youngsters can go where their school friends go, like up Tinto Hill. It’s excellent to see the fun that people have.”
Gordon has been helping people with disability since he was a 14-year-old scout and he also volunteered with Capability Scotland for 30 years. He set up Paradventures in 2012, whilst he was still working as a police officer, to facilitate adventure activities for people with disability. The charity is supported by sponsors and volunteers who help people experience mountain climbing, nature trails, canoeing and other activities such as Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions.
Gordon started work on the Paratreker four years ago. There are two models so far, one for country tracks and rough roads and the other for wilder terrain, including hills and mountain paths. He is currently working with Herriot Watt University on a lightweight prototype. Paratrekers are built and assembled in Scotland.
The Paratreker gives people, especially children, the chance to safely explore the outdoors and reach new places that would otherwise not be possible. It is also ideal for older people with reduced mobility so they can continue to enjoy the outdoors with their family.
Gordon is a firm believer that there is no challenge that cannot be overcome. “There is no age barrier, no disability barrier. There is no reason why they can’t do it and we help make it happen,” he says.
Linzi Kirkwood is determined that her daughter Poppy, who has cerebral palsy, is able to enjoy all the experiences of her able-bodied twin brother Josh.
Helping Gordon with trials of the Paratreker meant 11-year-old Poppy has been able to reach new heights, which has been life-changing for her and her family.
“We were told Poppy would never sit, walk or speak. She has been proving them wrong every step of the way. But we would not have done half of what we have without Gordon. He is a godsend,” said Linzi.
One of their most memorable experiences was when they went to the top of Arthur’s Seat with Poppy in the Paratreker. They took her walking frame so she could stand and move about after getting out of the all-terrain wheelchair. “There were lots of walkers at the top,” recalls Linzi. “Everyone stopped and gave Poppy a round of applause. It was just phenomenal.”
Poppy says: “Climbing mountains has been so exciting. I’m over the moon and extremely happy that I can do things with my brother and with my mum and friends. Brother Josh adds: “I have loved joining Poppy on these adventures and being part of the team. Without Poppy being in this chair I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy these experiences with her.”
Gordon’s all-terrain wheelchair helped jubilant Cheryl Marchbank complete a tough five kilometre endurance challenge. She wanted to take part in the ‘Tough Mudder’ in Dumfries earlier this year to prove that “there is life after Encephalitis,” inflammation of the brain and spinal cord which left her with physical disability. Cheryl, who was helped by family and members of Freestyle Fitness to raise funds for The Encephalitis Society, says she would not have been able to get over the terrain without Gordon’s Paratreker.
All photographs courtesy of Gordon McGregor