A local woman is becoming an inspiration to many as she overcomes the obstacles of everyday life and continues her journey to independence, recently made easier with the help of the Alinker walking bike.
It all started in early 2016, when cyclist Eltje Malzbender was left on the rural roadside near Waitomo, after being hit by a car. She was eventually taken to hospital where she lay in a coma for 2 and a half months. After waking up she had no memory of the incident, but damage to the bike and the simple layout of the terrain where she was found indicated it was a hit-and-run.
But that wasn’t going to deter Eltje from her passion for cycling. After spending over a year in rehab, the former Te Kuiti resident moved to Cambridge, where the flat terrain, wide footpaths and a residence close to town provided the ideal place to begin rebuilding her life.
The accident left Eltje with serious neurological damage which affected her balance and coordination, but she continues to improve her ability and gain more mobility with each day.
“I’m back on a racing tricycle actually,” says Eltje, who is now involved with paracycling. “Now that I’m in Cambridge I have better access to everything really, the community, cafes, shops, the gym, and I recently discovered the pool at Resthaven.”
“Cambridge is a very nice town with some very caring people in it actually,” adds Eltje’s friend and support person, John Blake. “We find that a lot of the time when we go to a café or wherever, as she’s getting out of the car somebody steps in and holds the door open or something like that, people are really good.”
As a competitive cyclist, Eltje had always been a regular user of the Avantidrome. After the accident, Michael Bland, a former nurse and now coach at the Avantidrome, took it on himself to get Eltje cycling again, starting with the tricycle. At the Paralympic National Championships, held as part of the National Road Cycling Champs in Cambridge a few weeks ago, Eltje competed on the trike and raced to the finish in the time trial to win gold. She has been selected for the potential Paralympian squad to take part in the 2020 games.
Eltje credits Michael and John as being major contributors in her success so far, and can now credit an excellent invention in enabling her to become even more independent and mobile.
The Alinker walking bike has just been released in New Zealand following its launch in North America and the Netherlands, created by Dutch woman Barbara Alink originally for her 80 year old mother, who didn’t want to live with the stigma of using a walking frame.
Now the incredible yet simple 3-wheel walking bike enables people with all sorts of limitations, from arthritis to bad balance, to even out pace a fit walker. “You’d have to walk quite briskly to keep up!” John Blake explains. “It’s a freedom machine really, it’s given Eltje freedom and independence.”
“It’s ten times faster than crutches and much easier to use,” said Eltje. “Since the accident everything that I do now is really aiming at regaining as much independence as I can, and the Alinker is certainly a big stepping stone for that.
“When I walk on crutches I can’t talk to anybody because I’m so focused on my walking, but with the Alinker I can chat along the way. And it’s much more stable – although stability and balance is an issue for me, I’m much better on the Alinker. You still need to use your own stability but you don’t need to work it as hard as you have to with walking.
“And it’s much easier at the supermarket for example, reaching for products at the same level instead of going up and down from a wheel chair, and you’re more on eye level with other people.”
Eltje has been using an Alinker for 3 weeks since meeting the inventor Barbara at the Avantidrome, who was visiting as part of the Alinker’s launch in New Zealand. Whilst there, the pair went for a wiz around the flat part of the track and quite simply had a ball even though Eltje had a broken wrist at the time!
“We kind of clicked really,” said Eltje. “She’s just an absolutely awesome person, not only has she invented that device, but she has a big heart as well and is happy to support people with so called ‘disabilities’, she actually calls it ‘people who have adapted’.”
The Alinker is available through Life Unlimited Charitable Trust – the exclusive dealer in New Zealand – through their Life Unlimited Hamilton store or online. Eltje has now been declared the official “ambassador” of the Alinker in New Zealand, “I have no idea what is involves but I’m quite happy to talk to people when they see me,” Eltje laughs. “After Barbara had our little blast around the Avantidrome we went to a café and already there was a person asking ‘oh what is that’ and we let them have a go, people really love it straight away, I certainly did.”
Those interested in trying out an Alinker or finding out more are encouraged to visit Life Unlimited at 20 Palmerston Street, Hamilton. Or if you see Eltje around town, why not have a chat!