Last Saturday, watching Usain Bolt qualifying for the 100m final at the IAAF World Championships, being held in the London Stadium, 04-13 August 2017, spotting spaces in the audience, me&D thought we’d try to get tickets for the following day, Sunday.
And, yay, we did.
As a wheelchair user, you have to call rather than do it online but, honestly, it was no problem. One quick call and we were in possession of a £45 ticket for wheelchair space plus companion for the Sunday evening session 5 when Bolt, we hoped, would receive his medal.
Okay, not quite the same thing as seeing him win the race but he’d be in the stadium on Sunday and we’d be there cheering then settle back for the rest of the night’s events. Great way to spend a summer evening, right?
Obvs, I’d checked access information but really wasn’t worried – this is the 2012 Olympic Stadium, site for many a para-athletic event, it had to be a breeze, didn’t it? Every review of it, that I’d read, said so.
As we left our home at 5.45pm – the medal ceremony was due on at 8pm – grinning, I remarked to D, ‘let’s hope this doesn’t turn into another Access shambles …’
*Face-palm*. Horribly prophetic words.
West to East London. Thirteen miles on the sat-nav. Over ninety minutes driving time. Good grief.
Just everything that is horrible about London driving – lots of mid-town traffic, roadworks, convoluted journey. Nightmare.
On the way, we heard that the medal ceremony was being brought forward to 7pm because they didn’t want the evening interrupted with televised boos for Gatlin who’d managed to win the race the night before, with Bolt coming third. Brilliant. Not.
We were just passed Islington when Bolt got his medal. How deflated we were but we persevered. We like watching athletics. We really wanted to get across to see the Stadium. On we drove.
By 7.30 pm, I was getting anxious. We’d just spent 15 minutes being directed to – what seemed – a far distant car park. So not the close-by drop-off that we’d read of, and expected.
And, isn’t this where wheelchair lifestyle constraints kick you where it hurts?
‘Access’ for me is always subject to a timing constraint because I am one of the relatively few non-standing wheelchair users who is fully continent. Many reading this will not get the problem. But, for us wheelies, enjoying much of outside life is a lot about having necessary toilet access.
For me, the latter requires a hoist, a piece of mechanical equipment. For most wheelchair users who aren’t housebound, it does not due to incontinence, strong upper bodies (theirs or their helpers) or because they can weight bear (stand in one way or another). For the majority, toilet access with additional wheelchair space, good positioning all round and some grab bars will be fine. Sadly, not for me.
Whilst the London Stadium justifiably boasts of its great access and facilities for wheelchair users, such facilities almost never include hoisting apparatus and I had to assume, in the absence of knowledge, that theirs didn’t.
I am used to this very specific lack of toilet access but it means all my trips out are inevitably constrained by how long I am able to hold my bladder or, as with a number of high profile wheelchair-using athletes who’ve recently publicised poor toilet availability, I will end up peeing myself. Not something I like to do in public.
So, at 7.30pm, not yet parked to get to the Stadium, this was my worry. I was almost 3 hours past my last toilet visit. At the car park where I was hesitating, I had to leave our car, roll onto a shuttle bus, be driven for another 15 minutes, find our space and do the same to get back with another, potentially 90 minute journey home.
Adding all that up, factoring in an unknown wait for the shuttle to get back – four shuttles, one wheelchair each time, unknown number of wheelchairs but 50,000 to get out of Stadium – plus two hours of viewing time … I was facing maybe 8 hours with no toilet access, only 2 hours of which would be watching the athletes.
And, damn it. I just can’t do that. I’d expected about 5 hours round trip. You know, an hour each way to travel, 2 hours of athletics, an hour of phaffing to get in/out of the stadium. That’s pretty do-able for me most evenings. Could do 6 hours, at a push. On some days, a bit longer. But it’s a risk. One that has to be assessed for every trip.
The time of day. Traffic. Unexpected emergencies. Delays of any kind. How much I’ve drunk and eaten. Food intolerances. All represent potential peeing disaster for me.
Lingering longer for fun – can’t do it. Spontaneous travel decisions – not in my wheelhouse.
And, yes, I do use an incontinence pad, just in case, but even these are dodgy. Wrong placement and I’m sitting in pressure sore hell. And I cannot afford those kinds of ‘mishaps’ – being bed-bound is even more constraining to living a life than continence management.
Just today, I was reading about someone in my situation who had a permanent catheter placed because of the life limitations imposed by continence combined with non-standing wheelchair use. Bit extreme, I thought, but I do get it, even with the risks catheterisation brings.
Anyway, that’s the long story.
In short, I had to call it. As I said to D, if seeing Bolt had been in the equation … but that boat had sailed, or sprinted off. Our tough luck and we didn’t get to see the athletics.
Arriving home, just after 10pm, I’d actually spent less time having dinner at The Woodspeen the night before – a 100 mile round trip but all motorway. That had been five hours door to door, one hour drive time each way.
The following day, through gritted teeth, I read another wheelie’s account of the night, the Stadium’s great accessibility, fantastic wheelchair locations. The roars of the crowd. Seeing Usain Bolt.
It was all so disappointing. And, I’m not sure we’ll ever make it back there because the timings for me are what they are. Maybe, on another occasion, the London traffic might be kinder but how to know?
Whilst for most, the London Stadium is a brilliant place to visit in a wheelchair, for me, practically, it is not. I’ve had to come to a similar conclusion for the O2 Arena. Up to four hours or more of travel and transfer time to either venue, plus event time, does not make for a relaxing trip out for me.
Personal lifestyle constraints caused by illness never go away and continue to chafe, the more so when even great access cannot cater for all eventualities.
Not sure what either the venues or I can do to change that.
Any, polite, suggestions welcome.