With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, one of my favorite organizations, Paralyzed Veterans of America, is doing a campaign that will allow us to show how much we #LoveOurVeterans. You can easily send a Valentine’s Day card to a veteran in a VA hospital! When the PVA asked if I’d be interested in taking part in this campaign, I enthusiastically said yes. However, I want to show you just how awesome our paralyzed veterans are, so I interviewed one of them. His name is Shaun Castle and he’s an avid world traveler. Being paralyzed has not slowed him down at all… if anything, it’s sped him up. Read his inspiring interview below and learn how to send a Valentine’s Day card to a veteran like Shaun.
Please tell us about yourself and what you do.
I am a 35 year old paralyzed veteran who is currently a student and wheelchair basketball player for the University of Alabama, as well as an advocate for disability and veteran’s rights. I am originally from New York and I’ve been lucky enough in my life to have visited 37 countries!
Can you please tell us about your time serving our country?
I was a military police officer and protective services officer stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. During that time I was deployed to Kosovo, Bosnia and other Middle Eastern missions.
How did your passion for adventure begin?
It definitely came from my mom! When I was a kid my mom would always take us to different places around town whenever we had free time. Anywhere from the zoo to museums and more. But she would also take us on trips at the drop of a hat to all over the east coast of the US. My all-time favorite would be when we packed up the car and drove to Washington, D.C. to visit all the sights when I was 8. She always told me that I should search for knowledge by going places and learning from the people who live there rather than just accepting people’s word for how it is.
What is the most wheelchair friendly place you have been to?
Without question it is Canada! More specifically, Toronto! They have built the city around the idea of accessibility and now have hosted many of the adapted athletic major sporting events because of their commitment to inclusion. However, Lyon, France and London, England both tie for second with their wonderful public transportation that goes out of its way both in price of tickets for wheelchair users and helpful people ensuring you can enjoy the cities without much worry.
What is the least accessible place you have visited?
I would have to say that the least accessible place was Paris. In many parts of the city during the time I visited there were little or no cut outs to access the sidewalks and when there were cut outs they were blocked by construction, which forced me to push myself in busy roads. I also had a hard time finding public transportation with lifts and finding cabs that would actually pick up a wheelchair user.
What kind of problems have you came across while traveling in a wheelchair? How did you overcome them?
One of the biggest issues, especially when traveling abroad, is finding cabs that will actually pick up wheelchair users. It is somewhat of an issue inside the United States, but it is much more prominent overseas. I have found however, that outside of my experiences in Paris most major areas of Europe and the Middle East have great public transportation for wheelchair users with many experienced workers there to help you. Don’t be afraid to venture to the subway and buses, as they are usually a great, and cheap, way to get around. I highly recommend anyone who is in London to use the tube as it is very wheelchair friendly. Just mind the gap!
What are some of the top items on your bucket list?
There are two places that are at the very top of my bucket list. They are Tokyo, Japan and Sydney, Australia. I’m hoping I can get to Tokyo for the 2020 Paralympics and hopefully soon I’ll be able to get to Sydney! Stateside I’ve always wanted to visit Seattle and Park City, Utah.
Do you have any tips for other wheelchair users that might think traveling is not possible?
The world is much more accessible than ever before! There have been huge leaps forward that have made the world open up for wheelchair users. There will be moments of frustration in places that aren’t as accessible as they should be however, I always use the motto I learned in the Army which is “Adapt and overcome.” Don’t let the possibility of hitting a roadblock stop you from seeing the world. Since I’ve been in my chair I’ve traveled the world and seen places I never dreamed of and I’ve learned that my chair doesn’t disable me. Rather, it enables me to live!!!
What would it mean to receive postcards from fellow travelers this Valentine’s Day?
It would be amazing, as there is nothing better than to get cards from people who are paving the path for me to be able to follow. It would continue to show me and others that just because the road is less traveled doesn’t mean it can’t be traveled in a wheelchair!
Wasn’t that a fantastic interview?? If you are feeling inspired and want to wish a paralyzed veteran a Happy Valentine’s Day, please click here to send them a card. It’s completely free to send the card and takes only 10 seconds.
Paralyzed Veterans of America will print out the cards and deliver them to VA hospitals. At Walter Reed Medical Center, veterans will also receive Godiva chocolates.
Send a Valentine’s Day card now by clicking here!
An inspiring tale indeed. Good on him! Shaun talks about difficulties with cabs. As a cabbie myself, I once had a paraplegic passenger, who had travelled to 41 countries when I met him, has since written another book describing twelve more, and when last I heard, was working his way through the Americas.
Ken Haley, who wrote “Emails from the Edge” and “Europe at 2.4 km/h”, became not just a passenger, but a friend. Once he discovered that I would try to make his taxi experience as convenient as possible, I was his cabbie of choice.
A delightful man, full of wit and learning, I relished his company beyond the simple pleasure of helping another human being.
It is wonderful when folk demonstrate that despite crippling disabilities, not just normal life is possible, but activity and adventures well beyond what most of us dream about.