Suzi Merson has hidden her wheelchair in the shed and taken to the footpaths around Hastings on a bright yellow Alinker walking bike.
The freedom she feels coupled with the ability to look people in their eyes rather than have them looking down at her has made the 56-year-old former picture framer the happiest she has been since the disastrous car crash two years ago when she lost her right leg below the kneecap.
“I died and came back to life, but my right leg was shot,” she says.
A few weeks ago, a picture of the Alinker in action came up on her Facebook feed.
She knew intuitively it would work for her. The Alinker is a non-motorised walking bike without pedals and is challenging assumptions about people with disabilities and building a more inclusive community.
“I was fitted with my first artificial limb in June 2017, but I couldn’t walk any further than 20 metres at a time.
“My legs were not very stable. I hated being in a wheelchair. People can be cruel. Suddenly you’re deaf and dumb. That’s what makes the Alinker so good. I wish I had known about it straight after the accident and I wouldn’t have wasted all this time.”
As soon as she saw the post on Facebook, she rang M-J Bloem at the Life Unlimited Store in Gisborne. M-J said she would bring the Alinker down to Hastings the very next day, so Suzi could try it out.
“I rang my ACC Case Manager straight away and said: ‘this is what’s going to work for me’.”
Now Suzi has her own Alinker, she needs to convince the Case Manager that funding it will help with rehabilitation.
A week on, she admits to having a very sore bottom as she builds up to her goal of walking two kilometres.
She is going to buy a pair of bright yellow sunglasses to go with the Alinker.
“I’m going to be out on that thing telling everyone all about it,” she says.
“It’s the best invention for someone like me.”
Suzi might get into a fight with husband Rick who recently had a hip operation and feels the Alinker might help him out as well.
M-J said seeing Suzi on the Alinker has made her year.
“She was so very excited and full of joy to be moving again. When I grow up I want to be that positive and just enjoy life.”
Life Unlimited Store/Mobility Centre are the exclusive retailers for the Alinker in New Zealand.
Inventor Barbara Alink came to New Zealand in 2017 to launch the walking bike here.
“Our mission is to create revolutionary solutions for people who want to live an active life, despite existing or developing mobility challenges. Our goal is to make it as easy and fun as possible for people to stay physically active, socially connected, and emotionally engaged in the community,” says Barbara.
Several other people in New Zealand are now benefitting from the Alinker including Wellington’s Christine O’Sullivan who has multiple sclerosis.
“Walking beside my partner at the local market and looking at things together is wonderful –just like the old days. Hard to find the words for how I feel –independent, free, confident and with a constant smile on my face.”
Another is Jo Griffin of Matarangi Beach who describes the Alinker as a ‘life changer’ and Eltje Malzbender of Cambridge who used the walking bike to build up strength after a cycling accident left her with serious neurological damage which affected her balance and coordination. Last year she represented the New Zealand Paralympic team at the UCI Para Cycling Road World Championships in Italy.
Internationally actress Selma Blair, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year, took delivery of an Alinker. On an Instagram post she said: “I got places to go! Sometimes I can’t do it on my own two feet. Sometimes I have to sit down and roll with the punches. I love being able to move at the speed of sound. Totally here for this innovation.”