In need of inspiration? Alice Verrall has hiked and biked over 11,000km across Australia – despite a disorder which means she struggles to turn a tap on; Cerebral Palsy.
When Alice Verrall recently had to post an advert for a carer, the 25-year-old who is a Cerebral Palsy sufferer, had some very specific requirements. “Aide to assist 25-year-old female with Cerebral Palsy (mobile),” the advert read, “Mentally capable, very intelligent. Needs assistance to travel, bike ride and hike throughout the summer university holidays. Duties include: Setting up camp, changing bike tires.”
In fact, the wording of the advert downplayed Alice’s requirements – and her achievements. The nature-lover is currently attempting to bike and hike across the most intimidating National Parks and Rail Trails in Australia. The grand tour will take her from Cape Conron and Mallacoota, across Big Desert National Parks and through Tasmania (the list is far too lengthy to mention in its entirety).
It would be an ambitious undertaking for an able-bodied adventurer. But, when you look at Alice’s medical history it is truly astounding.
The student from Victoria has Cerebral Palsy – a development disorder which distorts messages from the brain to cause either increased muscle tension or reduced muscle tension, according to Cerebral Palsy Australia.
At worst, it can result in Quadriplegia, where all four limbs are effected as well as the muscles in the face and mouth. When Alice is asked how the disorder effects her physically, her response is simple. “Everything,” she says, “I can’t write. My balance is poor. I need help with everyday life. I rely on support and a carer.”
Yet her Facebook page, Alice’s Hikes & Trikes, is a montage of inspiring photographs showing waterfalls, rainforests and tents set up in sandy alcoves. This raises the question – how are her adventures physically possible? The answer is humbling to anyone who has cancelled a camping trip because packing the car seemed like too much effort…
“I do face unique challenges,” says Alice, “It takes a lot of organisation and a good support system. My toughest [physical test] was hiking to the top of King’s Canyon in the Northern Territory. But it was amazing to see what was attainable.”
Alice has a recumbent trike called a Cro Mo Magnum Trike (she named it “Freedom”) which allows her to pedal in a reclining, seated position. It provides extra support but she still has to put in the leg work.
She relies on carers to accompany her on her outdoor expeditions, doing tasks that most of us take for granted – changing bike tires, setting up camp, preparing meals and turning taps on.
“The hardest part, for me, is finding loyal carers that don’t just want to use me for a free holiday,” she admits, “I love [taking on these challenges] but a bad carer can make them hard. Last summer I had to fire a carer and [even thought the trip was amazing] I came home so sad. But I won’t let that stop me.”
The primary aim of her mission is to raise money for Assistance Dogs Australia, who supplied Alice with her assistance dog, Kooper. Her aim is to raise $27,000 as that is how much it costs to raise and train one assistance dog. So far, Alice has hiked and cycled over 11,000km but still has a long way to go.
“Whilst traveling through this beautiful country I not only hope to promote the work of Assistance Dogs Australia, but also to maintain my independence and extend my knowledge of the environment,” explains Alice, who is currently studying Wildlife and Conservation Biology at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
The gutsy explorer has even bigger dreams for after she graduates. “When I finish University I plan to travel the world,” she says, “I want to see Africa, the Grand Canyon and the Amazon. It won’t be easy but I never give up. I want to show people that anyone, especially disabled people, can do whatever they set their mind to.”
Now… what excuse do you have for not leaving the city this weekend?