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Charity fundraiser will highlight challenges faced by wheelchair users

Pic by Eyleen Gomez

Benji Borastero is wheeling his way to raising £2,000 for the Little Smiles Charity with Gibraltar’s first wheelchair marathon this Thursday outside the Parliament.

At the moment he has already raised £1,700.

With over two months of training on his Invictus Active Trainer for the six-hour event, Mr Borastero is ready for the challenge and is inviting everyone to go down and try using the spare trainer that will be set up.

“It has been in the works for two to three months and was part of the Mayor doing the ‘We Are One’ campaign. It is part of week-long events with the Gibraltar Disability Society,” he told the Chronicle.

“I have had the idea for a while and it is something I have wanted to do for years now.”

There isn’t a set distance and the challenge is more along the lines of how far can they go in the five to six hours they will be there.

“The idea is to give people a taste of what it is like to be in a wheelchair,” he said.

“It is not going to be a perfect representation but if you can imagine for a lay person, if they think ‘ok this is how difficult it is for me to push a wheelchair with ideal situations as I am literally just pushing the wheels and there are no obstacles’ imagine how much more difficult it is when you start to include ramps and turns and obstacles.”

The Chronicle met Mr Borastero away from his home and accompanied him on the journey back to see him use his trainer.

As we made our way down the road there is a relatively small lump of concrete on the path. He points out that, if a wheelchair user does not see that and avoid it, it is big enough to send them flying out of their chair. These are things non-wheelchair users would not think of as a danger.

“So, that is why there is really no set distance,” he said.

“The idea is that there is me and three other wheelchair users, Eric Rowbottom, Stuart Cerisola and Bianca Martinez. We will be there as examples to encourage people to give it a go.”

They have two wheelchairs lent to them that will facilitate this.

When Mr Borastero was in university, where he obtained one of his two degrees in Sports Coaching Science with Disability Sports from the University of Worcester, over five years ago the wheelchair basketball at the university did an accumulative wheelchair marathon.

“At the time it was the distance between the university and the university championships and I thought that just that idea of allowing people to be switching on and off, why can’t we extend that to raise awareness? If you are not a wheelchair user, here is your chance to try it out at least to some capacity,” he said.

He is hoping the experience will be eye-opening for people and make them think about the challenges faced daily by wheelchair users.

While people can try out the wheelchair and trainer for however long they wish, he is challenging people to see how far they can they go in 30 seconds.

“You can just have a leisurely stroll in a wheelchair and it may not be that difficult but to go from walking to running, essentially, give that a try and see what that is like. That difference in effort in my opinion makes pushing a wheelchair a very different experience,” said Mr Borastero.

He hopes to raise awareness not just of the challenge of getting around on a daily basis, but also about other issues often faced by wheelchair users especially those who travel.

There have been documented cases around the world of wheelchair users, both Paralympian and non-athletic, having their wheelchairs damaged when stowed on an airplane.

This can leave a user unable to get around.

While damage like this is not a regular occurrence on the Rock, normal wear and tear takes its toll and a wheelchair can easily break without warning, leaving the user unable to move around until it is fixed.

In Gibraltar, if this happened on a weekend, users would need to wait until Monday.

It is things like this Mr Borastero hopes to bring awareness to.

He will also highlight the various sports that can be played on the Rock if the right support and amenities are provided.

Mr Borastero will be outside Parliament from 10am on Thursday.

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