New wheelchair allows woman to enjoy Lake Superior

Lenny and Cheri Shible enjoy the embrace of Lake Superior at Clark Lambros Beach Park in Marquette. (Photo by Jaymie Depew)

Marquette looks at making beaches more available

Published Aug. 19, 2018

MARQUETTE — All Cheri Shible wanted was to feel the sand between her toes in Lake Superior, but after sustaining a stroke five years ago, Cheri has used a wheelchair to get around making it difficult to enjoy time at beaches.

With the dedication of a Marquette-area group called the Coffee Clutch, enough funds were raised through an online endeavor to purchase Cheri a beach-accessible wheelchair.

Cheri and her husband and caretaker, Lenny Shible, demonstrated how the wheelchair worked at Clark Lambros Beach Park in Marquette on Wednesday, with a blessing by Father Greg Heikkila of St. Michael’s Catholic Church beforehand.

Although a dark sky threatened rain earlier that day, the clouds cleared and the sun beamed on the boardwalk that Lenny and Cheri used to move toward the lake. The boardwalk, which was initially funded through a grant to protect beach grass, was helpful in the transition. However mats had to be placed at the end of the walkway because it ends before reaching the water.

Margaret Brumm, Coffee Clutch member and spearhead of the GoFundMe page that was created to raise around $1,050 for the chair, said the city doesn’t have designated beaches for those with mobility challenges.

“Cheri wanted to feel the water and sand between her toes a few weeks ago and Lenny tried to take her down in a conventional wheelchair and it got bogged down and he almost got hurt,” Brumm said. “We want tourists to come here, but one in five people have mobility challenges and we have no handicap-accessible beaches in Marquette.”

As Lenny pushed Cheri and her new chair into the sparkling water with no hesitation, she smiled at a group of around a dozen onlookers and said, “We did it. This is wonderful.”

Lenny said the wheelchair was delivered on Monday and even though the demonstration was planned Wednesday, he put together the chair fairly easily and brought Cheri to the beach right after.

“The boxes came in from the manufacturer on Monday and I dug into them. I thought it was going to be a lot of work to put together but it was mostly assembly,” he said. “The big wheels came separate and it just had to be put together with an axle and put on the unit and then some of the long handle and it was ready to go. I turned to Cheri and said ‘It’s hot. We’re going to the beach.’”

Cheri explained that the wheelchair is easy to use and she’s excited to have it.

“It’s easy to ride in and nice being out in the water,” she said. “It would be nice if I could go to all the beaches, but some of the beaches, it’s just hard to get to.”

Lenny said once they heard about the boardwalk being built at Lambros beach, Cheri went to a city commission meeting and thanked the commission for the walkway.

“We found out later that the boardwalks were in place to protect the grass, but they can have a multiple functions and it got us a lot closer,” he said.

The big push for Wednesday’s demonstration, Lenny explained, was to show people who use wheelchairs that they don’t have to stay at home because there are options available.

“When Cheri had her stroke years ago, I can’t tell you how much as a caregiver and a survivor you don’t know what’s out there because there’s not a one-stop shop for support, … or for what I call adaptive equipment gizmos or ideas on how to make life easier,” Lenny said.

After he and Cheri vacationed in Florida and saw beach-accessible wheelchairs available for rent, Lenny said it was on their radar to purchase one.

“It was just a matter of ‘when’ and ‘if,’ and the Coffee Clutch brought that ‘when’ to right now, which is so cool,” he said.

Lenny said he’d like to see manufacturers “take this on as a nonprofit” because the chairs are pricey since insurance companies won’t pay for them.

Although the city doesn’t currently have designated wheelchair-accessible beaches, officials say they’re in the process of finishing a five-year parks and recreation master plan, which does include making parks and beaches wheelchair accessible.

Jon Swenson, director of community services, said previous property owners of Clark Lambros Beach Park made a strong attempt to make it accessible with the type of “wooden flat mat” they put in.

“It’s a neat idea, but it doesn’t work as well for maintaining,” Swenson said. “We found that folks who use it in a chair are quite jarring because the gaps are too big. What we’re doing now, well two things — No. 1, we have a coastal zoned application in … we’ll hear back on later this year. If it is successful, that would allow us to purchase better mats for McCarty’s Cove and potentially for Clark Lambros park and others.”

Swenson said the second part is updating the recreation master plan.

“Part of that plan is an assessment of all facilities and our consultant is just about done wrapping it up,” he said. “That will be finalized and published by the end of the year. The plan allows us to see these areas where we have accessibility and maintenance challenges and then we’re able to prioritize dollars in the future. Accessibility is a huge rendition of the plan.”

Once it’s in the plan, Swenson said, officials can write grants and seek funding to try to improve the accessibility throughout the city’s park system.

Andrew MacIver, assistant director of community services, said the newly improved Father Marquette Park is a recent project that showcases the dedication to making parks accessible for all.

“We wanted to make sure people in wheelchairs can enjoy the view, so we added a sidewalk that goes to the top,” he said. “Accessibility is definitely one of our top priorities that we’re striving for.”

According to Swenson, a survey will be mailed to random households within the next month that will ask residents what they would like improved in regards to the city’s overall infrastructure. Swenson said the survey is a prime opportunity for residents to have their voices heard.