Retired Walt Disney Imagineer Bill Adamson created magic for his granddaughter’s 10th birthday when he designed and constructed a motorized wheelchair she could use to navigate the beach.
It was a life-changing moment for Maelisa Plumlee. Now 15, she uses a wheelchair to get around because she’s had trouble walking since she was a little girl. That made it difficult to visit the beach — her favorite place.
Huntington Beach resident Brandt Stebbins sympathizes. He was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases when he was 10 and later with avascular necrosis, a condition in which bone tissue dies because of a lack of blood supply. He has to use a cane or wheelchair to get around.
Now, Stebbins is partnering with Adamson to try to make sure nobody is left out of enjoying a day at the beach.
On July 28, the community is invited to visit Jack’s Beach Concession at 21291 Pacific Coast Hwy. in Huntington Beach from noon to 5 p.m. to test five motorized wheelchairs — including one specifically designed for children.
Beach wheelchairs have large, wide wheels that can roll on the sand without sinking. While Jack’s Beach Concession offers some of them as rentals, they have to be pushed from place to place.
Stebbins recalled a time when he wanted to have a beach day with his family. It was supposed to be fun, but the experience dampened his spirits, he said.
“We rented one of the wheelchairs [from Jack’s] but my family only pushed me a quarter of the way [to the shore],” he said. “It’s supposed to be a fun day. Instead, I sat at Jack’s and had depression come over me.”
Adamson’s prototypes, however, are motorized, meaning the person in the wheelchair can cruise around using a joystick.
The motorized wheelchairs have a battery life of about four hours.
Two of the devices — which cost about $4,500 each — will be donated to the city of Huntington Beach in hopes that people could use them for free, according to Stebbins.
Stebbins said he initially thought of asking the California Coastal Commission to add concrete slabs to the beach or Huntington Beach officials if they could roll out mats, but the two ideas weren’t fruitful.
Adamson, who lives in Glendora, and Stebbins were introduced through a mutual friend and said they believe they were destined to meet. They’ve received widespread support since they created the Facebook page for this month’s event.
“It’s basically what we want to do — help,” Adamson said, adding that they’re already looking to design one for paraplegic people.
Plumlee cruised around the Huntington Beach shoreline recently, showing off her yellow wheelchair as her grandfather followed close behind.
She said she visits the beach often.
“It’s very nice to know I can come to the beach like any able-bodied person,” she said with tears in her eyes. “[People] can miss out on things they care about, and it’s sad and hard to do that. I really hope other people can come here and run around with their family.”