Publicado por: Ricardo Shimosakai | 18/11/2014

World traveller isn’t confined by her wheelchair


Linda McGowan has collected various trinkets from her travels around the world, including Russian Matryoshka dolls and tikis from IndonesiaLinda McGowan has collected various trinkets from her travels around the world, including Russian Matryoshka dolls and tikis from Indonesia

It’s probably easier, and quicker, for Linda McGowan to talk about the countries she hasn’t visited.

The former Burnaby home care nurse who lives in New Westminster has travelled to 110 countries. She’s walked on the Great Wall of China, parasailed in Hawaii, climbed to Annapurna base camp in Nepal, flown in a hot air balloon in Australia, experienced sunrise on the Ganges River in Varanasi, India.

And McGowan has done it all while confined to a wheelchair.

Well, confined wouldn’t exactly be the best way to characterize the 66-year-old adventurer.

A few years after McGowan was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1983, she realized the progressive nerve disease would soon cost her the ability to walk. So she booked a trip to Beijing to fulfill her lifelong dream to walk on China’s Great Wall. After she left the travel agent, she bought her first wheelchair.

McGowan had never travelled internationally before.

By the time she got to Beijing her mobility had further deteriorated. But with the help of a cane and a lot of determination, she did take a walk on the Great Wall’s ancient bricks.

The experience triggered a wanderlust that had been foretold in McGowan’s old high school yearbook, which declared her the most likely to travel the world.

“Once I’d travelled that first trip, I had the feeling I could do it again,” said McGowan.

In fact, McGowan’s averaged one or two major international excursions every year since. Often she travelled alone. But as her physical abilities deteriorated, she started bringing along a companion.

McGowan’s trips aren’t packaged tours with five-star accommodation and guides to manage her every waking moment. Sometimes she buys a plane ticket and figures the rest of her trip out when she reaches her destination. She stays in hostels. Lonely Planet’s travel guides are her bible.

McGowan said the key to seeing the world despite her physical limitations is overcoming the fear to ask for help.

“You have to be a little bit crazy, a little bit gutsy,” she said. “You have to not be vulnerable.”

She rolled around the British Isles with a sign on the back of her wheelchair that said “Any push is greatly appreciated.”

When she wanted to climb high up into the Himalayan mountains in Nepal, she found a guide who would carry her in a basket on his back. The locals were astonished; they’d seen plenty of sick and elderly people transported down the mountain paths that way, but they’d never seen someone carried up the mountain on a Sherpa’s back.

To get down the 110 concrete steps to reach the Ganges river at Veranasi, McGowan reached into the stash of local currency she always keeps in her pockets to hire some students who were hanging out on the steps to lift her to the riverbank.

A tip, a smile and sign language go a long way, said McGowan.

“You find a way to make it work,” she said.

Her next trip, in November, will take her to South Africa for the first time.

In the meantime, she’s releasing a self-published book about her travels in a wheelchair on Oct. 26.

McGowan said she hopes her story will motivate others to embrace their dreams as well.

“You have to believe in yourself and your ability,” said McGowan. “I believe I have a responsibility to educate.”

McGowan’s book, Travelling the World with MS… In a Wheelchair will be available on amazon.ca and amazon.com starting Dec. 1. For more information go to www.lindamcgowan.ca

Source: Newsleader

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