Richard Farrant is a native of England who enjoys doing adventurous outdoor activities
Pattaya People newspaper
Richard Farrant is a native of England who enjoys doing adventurous outdoor activities such as travelling around the world, scuba diving, skydiving and bungee jumping. In this he is like many other young men.
However, what makes Mr. Richard unique is that he is completely unable to walk. He is afflicted with Friedreichs ataxia, a degenerative disease of the nervous system akin to multiple sclerosis.
The disease, which has no cure, causes increasing problems with everything involving coordination, physical strength, control of the arms and legs, balance and speech deterioration. He w0as first diagnosed with the disease at age 10 and by age 19, was forced to use a wheelchair.
However, unlike people with less spirit who might think their life was over, Mr. Richard realized that his life had really only just begun and there was a planet of opportunities and challenges out there.
After graduating from De Montfort University with a degree in business, Mr. Richard, at age twenty, decided to go out into the world – literally. But what was planned as a brief foray actually turned into an eight-year odyssey in which he visited and revisited some 20 countries, starting in the US and ending in Thailand. All in a wheelchair.
Richard says: “I have travelled a+-s far, if not further, in my mind as in my body. I have done things and been to places that many people only dream about. Travel has taught me so much about this precious life. In many respects I have lived a fantasy life, a life of madness for eight amazing years.”
As he rolled from place to place across the globe, Mr. Richard usually stayed in hostels, venues which are not only cheaper than fancy hotels, but which give greater insight into the way life really is in the host countries. He made a few trips to Thailand, before deciding to settle down in the Kingdom two and a half years ago.
“On my first solo trip to Thailand,” he notes, “I didn’t know quite what to expect from Thai people’s attitude to someone travelling in a wheelchair alone. To my surprise, their reaction was not one of inaction, but of natural curiosity, if or when I needed it. Although at times, ‘help’ was definitely not what I got, the intention was there, but not the execution. I even had people in shops offer to wash my dirt-covered hands. The best description for the Thai attitude – and that throughout Asia – is of having no preconceived ideas about people who use a wheelchair”
Incidentally, Mr. Farrant uses a manually-powered wheelchair instead of the more up-to-date motorized versions with lots of electronic accessories. He does so because the infrastructure in Thailand is not generally wheelchair-friendly. The roads are uneven and there are very few ramps and lifts for handicapped people as there are in western cities. In addition, motorised wheelchairs are extremely heavy, which makes it very hard to lift them up and down curbs or steps.
Among Mr. Farrant’s other adventures in Thailand was his encounter with a tuk-tuk in Bangkok, which he says “is not the easiest form of transport for someone with a wheelchair. After a previous unsuccessful attempt to ‘mount’ one, I wouldn’t let the cheapest mode of transport beat me. So, hailing one to take me the half-mile to my favourite drinking haunt, I decided just to sit on the back seat and hang the wheelchair from the back. The plan failed miserably. I ended up perching on the floor, holding onto the wheelchair for dear life. But did a tuk-tuk defeat me? It definitely did not!”
But Mr. Farrant wanted more experiences out of life than being a globe-trotting budget tourist. He decided to go in for adventurous and risky – sports in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. He learned to scuba dive and tried sky-diving (in tandem, which he says was not 100% satisfying because he was more of a passenger). Bungee jumping, however, was a different story and became his passion.
He has made several bungee jumps, but, like a first romance, one’s first bungee jump is something that stays with you always. He describes it in loving detail.
“I was in Canada and woke to the prospect of hurling myself off a bridge that was higher than
Dover’s white cliffs. As the shuttle bus pulled up, the driver jumped out and shouted ‘Right. Who’s jumping today?’ To her surprise I answered ‘Me and my wheelchair’.
“Two hours later we arrived in Nanaimo. As we drove into the bungee site, I caught my first view of the bridge and valley. The high bridge and deep valley! My first stop was the cabin where I was weighed and briefed on the jump before I made my way towards the bridge.-
“My final problem was still to be encountered – four flights of stairs. Stairs and wheelchairs don’t mix, so climbing a stair at a time on my butt was the only option. After thirty minutes climbing time and a sore rear end, I reached the summit, the bungee platform.
“From the platform, I looked down with only one intention: to descend much quicker than my ascent. I was up there being attached to my harness – I could not do it the normal way of having the cord attached to the ankles – and being watched by a group that dared not jump themselves, but appeared to get pleasure from watching other terrified jumpers.
“I launched myself on the count of three. My only comforting thought was that I was attached to the bridge, therefore it would be safe. Plummeting down the valley was exciting, invigorating, exhilarating, stimulating, but most of all it felt like life should!
“When the bouncing had ended and I had done my impression of Spiderman, I dangled from my cord much like a real spider would. I then was lowered to the security of my wheelchair, where, not only did I feel physically safe, but mentally satisfied as well.” Richard has since made six more jumps and has never tired of the “ground rush” as he plummets.
Very few human beings have done enough to merit writing an autobiographic website. But knowing Mr. Farrant and his love of life and excitement and adventure, Globe Wheeling will probably only be the first volume of his autobiography.