Marcus Thompson was on the first paraplegic team to win gold at the waka ama World Sprint Championships.
A Kiwi-designed electronic wheelchair described as “the closest thing to walking” is making inroads into the US and European markets.
The Omeo chair is based on Segway technology and uses the body’s own sense of balance to steer. A rider only needs to lean in the direction that they want the chair to go.
Designer Kevin Halsall says it much more closely matches the body’s natural inclination to use balance for movement.
Having hands-free operation also gives riders the freedom of carrying something while moving, an ability which able bodied people take for granted.
“You can hold a cup of tea, and open a door and go through it, which is pretty amazing,” Kevin says.
“It also prevents the rider’s rotator cuffs wearing out, which is a common ailment among wheelchair users.”
The Omeo’s impressive off-road capabilities allow riders to more easily traverse outdoor environments including the beach or bush.
One of its unique features is that the seat always stays level, meaning riders can travel up and down gradients of up to 25 degrees without fear of falling off.
Kevin designed the Omeo as a solution for his good mate Marcus Thompson, who had been in a chair for 16 years.
The chair has enabled Marcus to independently go for a surf because he can carry his board down the beach to the water’s edge.
“Most wheelchair users haven’t even been to the beach since their accident because it’s too difficult to ride on sand,” Kevin says.
Marcus also tows his waka ama canoe down to the beach, and famously took gold in the 500m event at the World Sprint Championships in 2018.
Marcus and Kevin even play games of tennis on Omeo chairs, while Marcus is known to use his chair at skate parks in Wellington.
They have also ridden across a swing bridge and up a trail to a hut on a hunting trip in Otaki.
The Omeo has a top speed of 20km/h and a range of 60kms on a single charge.