Wheelchair-bound adventurer from Leicester travels the world, sky-diving and bungee jumping
Leicester Mercury Newspaper
Leicester Mercury 14.3.19
Wanderlust is a strange and powerful impulse, and one that’s driven many a restless young Brit over the years to step out of their comfort zone and explore the great wide world.
This passion for travel is something that a 21-year-old Richard Farrant, from Stoneygate, Leicester, felt particularly strongly when he ventured out on his first overseas excursion back in 1995.
Negotiating a foreign language, unfamiliar customs and alien cultures can be a daunting enough – without factoring in a rare and debilitating genetic condition.
Richard, now 43 and living in West Knighton, was born with Friedreich’s ataxia – a disease characterised by progressive damage to the nervous system, difficulty walking, loss of sensation in the arms and legs and impaired hearing and speech.
That’s what makes his globe-trotting achievements all the more extraordinary – and inspirational.
“I was first diagnosed at age 8, so my walking got progressively worse throughout my school years,” he said.
“At the age of 19, as I started De Montfort University, I had lost the ability to walk…..at the age of 21 I decided to travel the world.”
In the intervening 23 years Richard has clocked up countless air miles visiting 35 countries over five continents – much of it as a solo backpacker while overcoming the constraints of being confined to a wheelchair.
And his preferred entertainment while on his travels has hardly been that of the average tourist.
The thrills and spills have included bungee jumping into a gorge in New Zealand, skiing in the Canadian Rockies, riding jet skis in Hawaii, paragliding in Thailand, sky-diving in Australia and a bird’s eye helicopter tour of Las Vegas.
“I took my first ever flight to the USA to fulfil a dream,” he said. “I decided that my life had just begun and knew there was a world of opportunities and experiences for me to discover.
“It’s definitely been a challenge. Friedrich’s ataxia affects the nervous system and I am completely unable to walk, with limited upper limb movement.
“But my inspiration has always been based around my deteriorating condition – I’ve always needed to live my life to the full because my condition is constantly worsening, which means what I can do today will become more difficult in the future.”
Richard added: “I choose to travel solo because I would experience complete freedom of when, where and how to travel.”
“I needed to travel on a tight budget so would often stay in hostel dormitories rather than regular hotels. I would travel by any means available, even hitch hiking on my own, or being towed around the streets of Asia behind a motorbike.”
One of the most enlightening aspects of his adventures has been the attitude to disability Richard has encountered in different cultures.
He said: “In certain countries accessibility for the disabled wasn’t available and the understanding of the public was a challenge due to a lack of awareness and my abilities, for example my hearing loss and understanding different languages.
“But my favourite part of the world is South East Asia. The most compelling reason why I find it so alluring is the positive treatment as a disabled person.
“The simplest way to explain this is I think our western over-education is actually as mis-education.
“The basic fact is I am disabled, but in South East Asia I am not made to feel ‘different’.”
He said: “I have done things and been to places that many people only dream about. Travel has taught me so much about life and that we should all love to live.
“The people I’ve met have taught about the way we all think and behave.
“I have matured mentally and personally through the many experiences I’ve had, each and every day.
“I have lived a fantasy lifestyle in every respect.”
He added: “I hope Globewheeling will show people the possibilities of a full and active life if you take away the constraints associated with having a disability.
“I hope my experience, knowledge and love for the world and the people in it will inspire people to create there own experiences.”
Richard deteriorating condition means he now has to rely on help from a full-time carer.
However, while it makes travelling more expensive, he has no plans to retire his backpack just yet.
He said: “I’d like to continue my travels. I went to Spain in January, but my last international trip outside Europe was 18 months ago.
“I’d particularly like to visit America again at some point as a lot of places have changed since my last visit 20 years ago.”
Richard’s one piece of advice – for all would-be globetrotters, but particularly those with disabilities – is that “anything is possible if you put your mind to it”.
He added: “Even if you have a disability, it isn’t a barrier to fulfilling your dreams, whether it’s a backpacking experience or a planned trip.
“Explore the world and the places and people in it, life is short and life is about experiences.
“Dream, believe, achieve.”
Richard has kept a travel journal and written articles for numerous travel publications and blogs over the years, where he has sought to inform, encourage and inspire other disabled globe-trotters.
To this aim he has now launched his own website – https://globewheeling.com