Cruising free as the breeze

Tom Scott demonstrates the performance of his new machine

He’s done it a million excruciating times since Sunday November 19 – reliving the Taupo fire truck accident that robbed him of the use of his legs, left him paraplegic.

“Very fast, lots of rolling, lots of noise - bizarre,” remembers 57-year-old former professional firefighter Tom Scott. “Then there was this instantaneous massive pain – I knew my back was broken.”

The door of the firetruck had flown open as the vehicle flipped on a corner on their way to a call-out.  Then it slammed closed, trapping him between the door frame. He woke seven days later in Rotorua Hospital to the news he might never walk again. “I already knew that – it didn’t worry me.” 

And then, there he is today like Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper out of ‘Easyrider’ – blasting down the Kulim Park beach front on his own custom built chopper, a Segway, the big black, expensive, quick and liberating Body Electric Max.

And Pippy – a fluff ball with ears flapping readying for takeoff, on his lap. 

“It’s not a wheelchair,” Tom insists. So we won’t call it a wheelchair. It’s a cross terrain transporter power chair. “It’s a mobility scooter, a destination vehicle for me, a life changer.”

It’s basically a Segway – but the chair, seat mechanism and electronics were developed by Body Electric in Wellington. “Lean forward go forward, lean back go back.” And you steer with the tiller.

ACC funded and he reluctantly reveals it cost $30,000. “More than most cars,” he admits. But then, he says, there are $30,000 worth of benefits for a man deprived of many life’s benefits. Those big, wide, fat feet will take him anywhere. Like through the ebbing tide on Beach Road at Bureta. Proof of performance for The Weekend Sun cameraman John Borren while shooting Tom loose on his chariot.

Off road, through rougher country, down the beach as fast as someone can run. Swift, tough and light.

“It means I can take my kids and grandkids to the beach.” Rather than driving to a beach in a car and then organising a conventional chair, dismantling, storing, remantling, the physical demand of doing that and then doing it all again when I get home, I can ride the power chair to my destination, ride on the beach and then ride home again.”

For a man who can’t rely on his legs, he says the liberating effect is priceless. It could easily have been Peter Fonda that uttered this thought, but it’s the blurb for the Max - “No nonsense, get around like you own the damned place.” And Tom Scott does just that – swift, tough, no-nonsense.  

It also means that while once upon a time he might not be bothered, now he wants to, he just gets up and goes at 20 km/h. “I go out for the sake of enjoying a beautiful day, and I can spend all day doing it.”

It’s become his vehicle of choice  – 1,200 kilometres since he got the Max in February. His beloved ute has become redundant. “I have to start it up every couple of weeks just so the battery doesn’t go flat.” And 1,200 kilometres is two tanks of gas in the ute – there’s money to be saved. “Tell me,”

He also has some new state-of-the-art batteries that means life for Tom Scott extends past the local supermarket and café. “My life has been changed twice – first the Segway and then the new batteries. I have gone from 20 kilometres max to 60 kilometres max. “

He will go to the gym in Hewletts Road – weights and cardio – then come home through Bayfair, Matapihi and the rail bridge. “And I will ride over to Welcome Bay every Saturday to watch my grandson play soccer.”

Easy to ride? Yes, when you are out in open spaces. “However one time I turned it on and ran straight into the till at a restaurant. There were six of those touch pads waiters use and I sent all of them sprawling.“ The waitress was very understanding.

And then if someone tries to give him a hug, they can pull him forward and off balance. “And that forces me to go forward and over the feet.” So spare the hugs.

One of the most interesting and unexpected advantages is it puts Tom at bar leaner level. “In a conventional chair you are below someone’s eyeline. They are looking down at you and you are looking up. It affects communication. With the Max you are just about on eye level. Believe me it makes a difference.”

And people do want to talk to Easy Rider when he’s cruising  – either about the Max or the fluff ball. Or both.