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Book review: Marathon Wheeler: Living with Physical Disability

Perseverance is the theme of Rev Heather Coombes’ book about living with physical disability, reviewed by retired Uniting Church minister Rev Christopher Ridings.

Now retired, Heather Coombes reflects upon her marathon journey in a wheelchair for the purpose of enriching life for those obliged to follow a similar rocky path.

Born with cerebral palsy, Heather traces her family background and acknowledges the strength and inspiration she has received.

It was a shock to her family when the infant Heather was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. This was followed by the challenge of the family adapting to what was an incurable condition. Heather retraces these steps, describing the events as they happened but not forgetting the feelings evoked.

The experiences of a child undergoing surgery and painful treatment in a hospital all too far away from home are never forgotten.

The journey through school was compensated by peer group acceptance and the various schools supporting Heather. The author reflects on her adolescent turmoil as identity and spiritual searching occupied her exploring mind as she tried to make sense of being born into a body with physical disadvantages.

Choosing meaningful employment, given her disability, shattered many youthful dreams. Fortunately, Heather was able to enrol in a university course from which she graduated.

A degree does not guarantee instant employment so after many fruitless attempts, a diploma in librarianship was added ensuring a paid job.

Also immersed in her local Uniting Church with hospital visiting and leading groups, Heather inevitably heard “the call of the burning bush” to apply to be a candidate for ordination into the Uniting Church, something unheard of for a person with a pronounced disability.

The ministry of Rev Heather S Coombes, BA, BTh, Dip Lib as a theological librarian, then a long-time aged-care chaplain in two Uniting aged-care centres should be well known. She achieved the status of an experienced, wise mentor in aged care and disability issues.

Coombes turns from her autobiography extending over half a century to list down-to-earth hints for anyone associated with disability. Among these I recognise numerous bloopers I’ve committed over the years. Learn from my mistakes. You haven’t time to make them all yourself.

Rev Christopher Ridings

Marathon Wheeler: Living with Physical Disability
Author: Heather Coombes
Publisher: Westbow Press
To purchase visit heathercoombes.com or contact hcoombes@ntegritynet.com.au for more information.

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