2021 Attitude Awards Supreme Winner Olivia Shivas with Olympian Gold Medalist Blair Tuke.
OPINION: Summer camping trips with my family always started weeks before the actual trip. My father is very organized; he’s the kind of person who likes to arrive at the airport five hours before an international flight. I get my organizational anxiety from him!
Before going on vacation, we would take a trip by visiting the campsite store first. I still remember the smell of rubber and the feel of the canvas as I touched and examined each tent sample, pretending to sleep in it to make sure our family of four could make it comfortable. . We had to make sure the tent also had space and access for my wheelchair.
My younger brother and I were going around the store trying to convince our parents that we had to buy the latest camping gadget – like a folding chair with a fancy cup holder or a torch with five light settings.
Flashlights came in handy on our camping trips, and not just using the bathroom when it was dark. After spending hours on the beach catching crabs under the rocks and trying to stay afloat on inflatable donuts, we waited for the sun to set and warmed up in our sleeping bags. We lit our torches and dad did a finger puppet show. He could make a duck with his hands, but my favorite was a funny man with a top hat. Our nights would be filled with funny voices and laughter.
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While our tent was usually full of laughs, our neighbors didn’t like it. One year we were camping at Snell’s Beach. We would wake up around 6am, as young children normally do, and our campsite neighbors berated us for the noise that woke them up too early.
As we grew older, we had the courage to make friends outside of our tent. While playing with children at the Coromandel campsite playground, I met Giselle. We played pretend on the sand, which caused our parents to exchange details, and we became pen pals.
Olivia Shivas, Rebecca Dubber and guests address the big questions about living with a disability on Stuff’s podcast What’s Wrong With You? They discuss sex, religion, disabled parking lots – and how to push back on outrageous issues.
My memories of camping trips also often continued after vacations. Giselle and I wrote a few letters back and forth. I sometimes wonder what my childhood penpals are doing these days.
Our family loved tent and land camping, and there were only a few times we ventured out onto the water – and for good reason too. Neither of us were super confident in the water.
One summer we had a family vacation in North Canterbury, near my grandparents’ house, and we spent the day at Ashley Gorge. My cousins, aunts and uncles also came. The throat seemed to go on forever through my 10 year old eyes. I remember the ground was covered with stones; not the type of waterhole you would tan through.
We had a little blue and white inflatable boat. I jumped in to supposedly stay safe in the water. My cousin and I paddled in for a while until we realized we were pretty far down the gorge, away from our parents. They were a small spot in the distance and the waters started to get rough.
While I was only able to sit still in the boat, my cousin braved the rushing waters and stood there, holding the boat with all her might. She was my heroine at the time, as it seemed like my life was literally in her hands.
I don’t know how long we stayed like that; I imagined her feet would be uncomfortable standing on the stony ground in her throat for so long, with the current against her legs. Finally, my uncle came to save us. He helped us up the throat and my cousin treated her bruised feet.
The times our family was adventurous were usually due to encouragement and push from others.
We had family friends who also had a disabled daughter (although different from me); we were the same age and had met in a physiotherapy program that we both attended as children. While my parents kept me safe enough, my friend, on the other hand, found himself in all kinds of adventurous situations – well, they were adventurous for me.
They had a bach by the water in Little Waihi. We spent our first mornings making pancakes on the electric frying pan, late mornings kayaking, and afternoons on the motorboat soaking our hands in the water without touching the jellyfish. They had a mid-size quad that we used to zoom in on gravel roads. I almost slipped in a corner too fast and my leg hit the muffler; I still have a small scar on my leg from the burn.
Our friends also had a boogie board that we clung to for life while tied to a rope from the motor boat. While the Little Waihi estuary was shallow, it was a thrilling experience to cross the water with so much freedom. I didn’t think it was possible, but seeing someone else do it gave me the boost I needed to hang in there and go for it.
I like the long days, the salty air and the moments without rushing. But these are the times when I step out of my comfort zone, that I have the best memories of summer.
Olivia Shivas is a Things Home page editor and supreme winner of the Attitude Awards 2021.