Sail Away

By Bethany A. Hoppe 
mobileWOMEN contributor, Bethany Hoppe
In the middle of winter this past year, my friend Unita and I started up a fabulous conversation about summer vacations.  She and her husband, who works at the same university as I do, usually do a trip each summer.   So, we decided to plan a trip together.  It didn’t take long for our vacation daydreaming to take us to the beach, which of course led to chattering about our shared love for dolphins, which led to our shared wish to have a dolphin encounter, or at least go view them from a sailboat.

Ironically, while I love the water, I don’t really swim.  I am in awe of the ocean’s energy, vibe, and force – yet know that it isn’t the safety of a swimming pool with umbrella drinks.  A lot of my mixed emotions about the awesomeness of the ocean’s shore, and the rush of dealing with waves and wildlife, is wrapped up in logistics.  

Wheelchairs are not a fan of sand, or salt water no matter how much this Rolling Diva wants to play in the ocean and tan on the beach!  

Rolling on the beach may sound romantic, but it isn’t the picturesque stroll hand in hand with your man when you’re battling every victorious foot of progress in soft sand, sea foam, and shells.  I found very quickly that if I stopped for a moment, I sunk into a rut that reminded me of getting stuck in the deep snow of Northwestern Pennsylvania.  

If I wasn’t cleared out of the way enough for incoming surf, I would get dizzy with the gravitational tidal pulls that shifted the soaking sand under my wheels, relocating and sinking me into a new spot with zero hope of backing out of the current or next rolling curl of water.  

When you’re not a strong swimmer, and you weigh in about the same as a Jellyfish…diving into the surf isn’t the brightest idea.  But despite this, I craved adventure!  I wanted to be on the water. I wanted to be at the water.  I wanted to be in the water.  I wanted to encounter the life force of the ocean.  

My husband and I traveled with our friends to Cocoa Beach, FL for the vacation Unita and I had begun talking about back when there were no leaves on the trees of Tennessee, and the forecast was a constant gray drizzle and chill in the air.  

With help from Tyson, I got a quick carry-her-across-the-threshold, and then go-back-and-get-her-chair style of getting onto the beach.  Soon we discovered a strip of beach between the soft sinking sand, and the wet tide sand that basically acted like a sidewalk.  If I tipped back slightly off my casters, we were able to manage quite a romantic stroll along the beach.  Occasionally, tides came in closer than expected, and I would get a little stranded momentarily.  I have made a mental note that next time I take a beach vacation…plan ahead to rent a beach wheelchair.  It will be worth the fees and the freedom of joy-riding a bit more.  

Here are a couple of links to learn more about beach chair rentals that has a listing of multiple locations:

Even though I didn’t have a beach chair, I still enjoyed the beach.  The more I rolled around, the more physically fit I began to feel and become in a very short amount of time.  I quickly learned a few new ways of pushing my chair, and bumping up and down small steps of the resort.  But more than that…I learned something about my own physical integrity.

I know that sounds like an odd term to use – I get it from the yoga concept of pulling the abdominal muscles inward towards my spine and sitting with what I now personally call, Integrity.  Here’s the interesting part:  the physical integrity of my posture as I adapted to the resort surroundings and the beach was more mental, spiritual, and emotional than it was physical.  

Try it.

Whether you have abdominal muscle control or not…if you mentally visualize your naval pulling inwards toward your spine, you will project yourself as sitting straighter and with purpose.  I discovered this one morning as I was battling sand on the beach.  It made me take note of my posture, how I was positioning myself for rotations, and how inefficient I was being in momentum.  I stopped for a moment and breathed out.  I visualized sitting up straight, which automatically made me sit up as if I was doing breathwork, and I heard the word “Integrity.”  Suddenly, I was rolling and moving much more efficiently, and with practice over the week of vacation, became adept at maneuvering the beach.  Whenever hiccups did occur, they were no big deal.  They didn’t stress me out or make me feel vulnerable anymore…they just happened, they were acknowledged, and I quickly reset myself to go on.  

Now, whenever I notice that I am either physically or emotionally slouching, I simply say to myself, “Integrity.”  And I sit up both inside and out.

After working with the sand, it did not take long to realize I would also have to work with my chair back at the condo.  An evening ritual developed of getting sand off of the wheels, away from axels, and cleaned out of casters.  I already had packed my L-wrenches and travel size WD-40 knowing that if I was going to anything left of my chair after vacation…I would have to get into the mechanics of taking care of my ride.  

Two dreams came true on this trip.  We chartered a sailboat, and took a 3-hour tour out into the ocean where we encountered a sea turtle, dolphins, and a massive Disney cruise ship leaving port right behind us.  If you ever want to feel like a peanut, leave the docks right before a cruise liner.  You will see how small you really are, sails and all!  
Bethany and her friends, ready to set sail!
The freedom of sailing was extraordinary.  Again, Tyson carried me over the threshold onto the boat, and Captain Billy stowed my chair below decks, and we were off!  The sun, the scents, the views, the bobbing of the boat was incredible.  We turned off the motors, and between Captain Billy, Tyson, and Unita’s husband Joseph…the guys manned the sails while lively conversation and storytelling made the excursion feel like 45-minutes to me!  

Sailing really made me feel amazing!  I loved the wind, breeze, and motion of the boat.  All of it felt like freedom to me!

The second dream come true was a kayaking adventure.  I have always been interested in kayaking, but I had fear of tipping over and sinking like a rock.  When you’re paddling along, you actually forget how deep the water is below you – until either a manatee or a dolphin comes popping up out of the water and then completely disappears again, only to reappear in a totally different spot.  It is then you realize that considering their size, the distance they just traveled before popping up again…you are not on a bobbing creek or shallow river.  You’re on the ocean.  And right below you is an entire environment that is home to creatures that will make you once again feel like a peanut.  

While the sand taught me Integrity, and the sailing taught me Freedom…the kayaking taught me Independence. Being out of my chair, yet by the power of my arms still gaining momentum…I was able to physically venture out into the lure and pull of the ocean.  By my own power I could turn the kayak any direction I wanted to go.  I could stop.  I could speed up.  I could float.  
Kayaking - "A dream come true!"
It was exhilarating!  There is no way I could ever swim to the dolphins.  And there was no way I could possibly wade into the cove to meet manatees.  But on the slim kayak…I could do both.  And no one had to carry me there.  I was in it!  

I don’t know if I would consider it an adaptive adventure, per se.  Although in some ways, it was. Tyson threshold carried me to and from the kayak, and to and from the small island we stopped at to explore…which is the contrast itself.  My exploration of the island was perching in one or two places that Tyson took me to, while he and the others of the group caught creatures they brought back to me.  So, that part is definitely adaptive.

It was on the water, paddling away, that I was the explorer.  While at the manatee cove, one bobbed up beside me, and dove back down beneath the surface, bumping its back on the tip of the kayak.  I had never been that close to ocean wildlife before.  

I am very away and profoundly thankful that Tyson and our friends are able to help me out in a tight spot on vacation.  But, it is helpful to know there are options for everyone with adaptive adventures (, and travel ( .  
If one short trip with friends taught me more about Integrity, Freedom, and Independence for myself, plus helped me begin to get past some fears and insecurities…I am willing to take the advice of the Dalai Lama and “…once a year, go someplace [I’ve] never been…”  

The truth is, every time you go on an adventure, you bring something back with you.  More valuable than souvenirs…you bring back parts of yourself.  Even the part of Yourself you did not know existed!

Bethany A. Hoppe is the author of the Lifestyle Blog "Raspberry Vogue," and the children's book series "Molly B. Golly."  The first book, "Molly B. Golly's Wonderful Dancing Debut!" is currently released. Bethany teaches Communication and Voice Diction at Middle Tennessee State University, and is the founder of Bethany Productions which promotes women with disabilities within entertainment through writing, speaking, performance, and fashion.  Visit Bethany at to keep up with her creative projects!  You can also find her online at  


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