From England to Amsterdam by wheelchair

by Eric Daniels

David Percival, 72, has been in a wheelchair since the age of 17. He never let his wheelchair get in the way of his life and recorded some incredible achievements. One of the most notable was when he decided to wheel all the way from Cambridgeshire to Amsterdam with his three friends. Now, 34 years later, his grandchildren will attempt to recreate the feat. 

David lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle accident when he was just 17 years old. At that time, in 1965, wheelchair access was underdeveloped to many places and even those that were wheelchair accessible were unideal. David took up numerous challenges to highlight how difficult it was to move around. He organized and went on a number of incredible treks, taking him across mountains of Scotland and around the moors of Yorkshire. Yet the greatest challenge he ever undertook was when he was 38 years old, he went all the way from Cambridgeshire to Amsterdam. 

The route was largely by road but included crossing the North Sea to Amsterdam by ferry. To walk this route alone would take approximately 40 hours so to be able to complete it on wheelchair at all was remarkable. 

Fast forward to the current day and David’s four grandchildren now want to honor his achievement by doing it all again. They say they are taking the ‘Percival Push’ to pay respect to his incredible achievement, to highlight the issues still facing wheelchair users, and to raise money for charity. The team of four plan to take five days to complete the trip. 

David has said that he is incredibly impressed and proud that they are taking on the task. None of the four actually rely on wheelchairs and David points out that it will make it difficult for them. If you use a wheelchair every day your arms grow incredibly strong and get used to the constant grind. For someone who doesn’t use a chair, it will be a tough task. The team is not naive though and has been training for some time to ensure they are up to the task. 

During their training, the team said their eyes were opened. “Everyone knows that life in a wheelchair is tough but we never realized just how much work was involved,” they said. Using the wheelchair around the local town has shown them just how uneven many surfaces are and how there are many small things that we often don’t consider that can actually present huge obstacles. 

The long wheelchair journey will be used to raise money for the Arthur Rank Hospice and Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis as those are two charities that their grandfather is particularly fond of.

Today wheelchair access is far improved compared to where it was in 1965, yet the Percival Push will still face many issues. If you have ever cycled on a footpath or road you will immediately know how uneven those surfaces are and what a nuisance-they can present for a lightweight agile bicycle, imagine the havoc they will wreak on a wheelchair. 

The cause that the Percival family is undertaking is a noble one. It highlights the need for all of us to step outside of our comfort zone on occasion to better understand the plight and adversity that others are facing. We often assume that the success we achieve in life is down entirely to our hard work and skill. The truth is that often some people are just dealt a better hand than others. The Percival four have shown that no matter what hand you are dealt there is an onus on us all to examine life from all perspectives and try to help those who need it most.

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