Here’s another article from SUP Mag UK’s 2014 vault featuring a local paddler from SUPM’s HQ, Hayling Island. Stan Wheeler may be battling a few health issues but he keeps proving time and again where there’s a will there’s a way – a true inspiration.
Parkinson’s Disease is a life changing condition that many people believe can put paid to any kind of watery activity – in fact sport in general. Yet Stan Wheeler, a long time Hayling Island local, is a shining example of how you just can’t keep a good man down.
When our editor asked me to write this article we were both heading out to the sandbank off Hayling – he on a brightly coloured board and me on a well worn Starboard Whopper. Now Tez doesn’t mince words and matter of factly asked: ‘Would you like to write about the effects of Parkinson`s disease on your SUP habits?’
I suppose most people have this idea that Parkinson’s is for old folk and that sufferers shake, stumble and fall. Well I guess that’s partly true but correct medication, regular exercise (preferably something you like helps a great deal) and understanding your own limits is a good way to help reduce effects. (Any sport is feasible – mine is and always has been of a wet medium. Being on it not in it!)
I first noticed I had a problem over 12 years ago. I went to open a cupboard door and missed it by about three feet. This kept happening so I went to the docs. His diagnosis shattered my world – at that time I was really into windsurfing and I kept pushing myself, trying different gadgets (mostly rubbish American inventions) to keep going. Gybing became a nightmare, switching feet was a joke, the front foot decided to join in about five seconds later and changing hand position ended in a dunking. I persevered for a couple of years until this huge surfboard landed on our shores. It will never catch on I thought (how wrong can you be?).
Doing this zig zag lines across the ocean, with only one paddle blade, was ludicrous. Everybody knows you need two to go in a straight line – right? And for that you need two blades…
During this time improvements in Parkinsion’s medication and consultant understanding enabled a vast increase in mobility across all age groups.
Parkinson’s is always thought of as an old persons illness but this is not the case. There is no selection process and all age groups can be affected. Parkinson`s is a neurological condition which affects the brain. The old grey matter is supposed to generate dopamine but does not make enough. This can cause a lack of balance, the legs freeze and stumbling occurs. Most noticeable is the shaking of arms, hands and legs. Some people develop a dead pan face – i.e. very little expression. The one thing remains unaffected is your sense of humour!
Sufferers will probably have had this condition sometime before being diagnosed.Trauma like divorce or bereavement can act as a trigger but this is only a thought train.
So, as I was saying, having a sport which you love certainly helps. Not only a good level of fitness but also the social aspect combats the symptoms – how many people do you meet at a football match and retain their friendship? With our sport you meet hundreds on the beach and become long time and true friends. Winter 2013/2014 has been exceptional, the rough weather reshaped the Hayling sand bank. In fact the storms totally reshaped some of the beach huts – into matchsticks! Now waves sweep right across the bay giving some superb long rides and a much better wave than the last few years.
There is no reason why people with this condition (sounds better than disease) should shy away from SUP. It’s more likely that old age will get you first – at 63 I have no intention of giving up just yet.
Parkinson`s has no known cure at this time but don’t despair if you are diagnosed – life doesn’t have to stop and work continues to find that elusive cure. In the meantime I am off to get a fix on the Starboard Whopper, in the sun and on the waves.
I’ve known Stan for a long time – ever since the wife and I moved to Hayling Island in 2005. He was one of the first characters that I started seeing regularly and one of the friendliest. At that time, as he details, his passion was windsurfing and regularly he’d be at the beach come rain, snow or shine.
A super approachable fellow I started to notice a change in him and less and less Stan would be around. Later I came to realise this was in fact due to his condition (as he puts it). It took a while for doctors to get his medication sorted out – if it’s not right then this can make you worse, as he later told me.
Stand up paddling came on the scene a few years later and three of us on the island embraced it. Mainly SUP was to access and ride the offshore sand bank waves that Hayling is now known for.
Although a good many pooh poohed it as a fad, soon enough I started seeing Stan at the beach again – this time with a paddle in hand. SUP had served to rejuvenate his water time and gave him a reinvigorated enthusiasm for getting afloat.
One thing that shines through with Stan is his refusal to give up. He simply won’t lie down and stop. SUP’s diversity and opportunity for attaching a windsurfing rig only served to stoke Stan’s salty fires further. WindSUP allows each movement to be slowed right down – giving him time to complete moves and enjoy a fulfilling session on the water.
It’s now not uncommon to see Stan back out on moderately windy days as well as during calmer periods when he uses a paddle. Back to more or less the same levels of brine time as when I first met the chap, his passion and enthusiasm still shine bright. Stan’s an example of how we shouldn’t let our circumstances dictate our fate – where there’s a will there’s a way and all that.
In an effort to raise awareness for the Big P Stan organised a low key event – Paddle for Parkinson’s. By the time you read this a bunch of sweepers will have raised a swag of dough for continued research into the affliction. This once again highlights how Mr Wheeler just won’t give up and tries his hardest to give something back via the sport(s) he loves.
Stan continues to enjoy his time afloat and I’m sure he’ll be out on the Hayling SUPer Bank for many more years to come.
For more information about Parkinson’s Disease head over to www.parkinsons.org.uk
Pics: Tez Plavenieks