"Any parent of a child with disabilities will tell you it's tough. Unbelievably tough." These are the words of Nick Watson, who's standing on the powdery white sands of the private beach at Fairmont The Palm. He's watching closely as his son, 14-year-old Rio, is pulled around the calm, shallow water on a special floating wheelchair that allows youngsters to enjoy being in the water without putting themselves at any risk.
Some members of the hotel's staff are helping out, walking along the seabed while pulling and pushing the chairs of Rio and two other children – it's a peaceful, beautiful sight. It's the very first Team Angel Wolf Beach Blast, and it's as much for the parents of "children of determination" as it is for the kids themselves. It's a chance for them to let someone else look after the kids for an hour or so, relax and have some much-needed me time.
For able-bodied children, the sea is a source of endless fascination and excitement, so to be able to get children with disabilities into the water is a particularly special privilege. And now, it’s one that’s open to anyone looking after children who are differently abled, thanks to a collaboration between Watson’s non-profit Team Angel Wolf association and Fairmont The Palm.
“This is a way for the kids to get together, play, have fun and get to know one another,” says Watson. “And it gives mums and dads a break, too, which is incredibly important. The hotel staff here have been incredibly supportive – not only are they letting us use the beach and facilities, but we’re also able to store these wheelchairs on-site, which is an enormous help.”
The devices look like extended deckchairs with a lengthy seat section suspended on a tubular frame. Attached are floatable armrests and tyres that keep the chairs buoyant. Sturdy straps are fitted at either end for carers to pull them through the water – a simple yet effective solution to a problem most of us won't have even been aware of.
Children will be invited to take part every Wednesday between 4:30pm and 5:30pm, and Watson says he'll be extending a welcoming hand to schools in the area, both mainstream and special needs. Team Angel Wolf, so called because Watson's two children, Rio and sister Tia, are nicknamed Angel and Wolf, was set up to spread awareness about, and encourage inclusion and integration, with children with disabilities in the community and prove, as Watson says, that "anything is possible".
He says he goes racing with Rio and has taken part in more than 150 different competitions with him, including cycling and marine sports. Watson’s wife, Delphine, is heavily involved, too. “All we are trying to do as a family,” he smiles, “is raise awareness of children of determination. If a child comes along and sees another child in a wheelchair, and asks mum and dad about it, we have done our job.”
Witnessing first-hand the beaming smiles of the three children bobbing about on the water in front of us on this inaugural Beach Blast, it’s evidently a job well done.