Here is the text of an article published last week in the Dunnville Chronicle in advance of my visit to the library there this Sunday...
By CATHY PELLETIER , CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER
"One of the things that interested me most when I was a disabled kid sitting in front of the TV was nature programming," reads an excerpt from Travels in a Blue Chair, a book written by world traveller, Walt Balenovich.
"It was the thrill of a lifetime when in 1993 on a visit to Kenya, my friend Wayne suggested we fly out to the Masai Mara, Kenya's portion of the Serengeti, for two days camping. I didn't know if I could do it, but if he was willing to take me, then I was definitely going to give it a try.
"I could never have imagined the wondrous beauty of this continent and I looked down," he said, describing the view from the plane, "wondering which animals were playing their daily game of life and death. The Africa of open fields and animal migration is slowly fading into history, as fences are erected and forests are brought down to clear for planting. This is exactly what happened in North America and ultimately led to the end of the buffalo and the First Nations' way of life."
In addition to vivid accounts of Masai warrior traditions and monstrous Nile perch weighing 175 pounds, the Kenya chapter describes spectacular sightings of cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, and lions, seen from a Land Rover during safaris.
"After two days out of my blue chair and in the front seat of this bumpy ride, my sore bum was starting to get the better of me," wrote Balenovich.
"We began to make our way back to camp and as we did, another herd of antelope seemed to gather to bid us farewell."
Diagnosed with polio at just 12 weeks old, he spent the first five years of his life in hospital. Originally from Welland, Balenovich became a self-described "I. T. geek," earning the necessary funds to travel the globe in trips spanning six months to a year.
His journey around the world began as a bench-warming athlete and coach in wheelchair basketball, rugby and sledge hockey, as well as in his capacity as a volunteer in disabled sports, as Athletic Director of the Niagara District Wheelchair Association and Vice President of the Development for the Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association.
Balenovich currently lives in the Lakeshore Village community of Toronto, and can often be spotted wheeling a 10-kilometre route through the lakeshore streets in an effort to stay fit for his trips.
He has spent significant parts of the past 15 years navigating the world, and sending humourous e-mails to friends and family about his unique adventures, from being stranded in a small boat in the dark on the Java Sea off Indonesia to falling out of his chair and breaking his leg in Victoria Falls in Zambia. Their reaction was invariably the same: "You should write a book."
Peppered with liberal doses of humour, Balenovich's tales chronicle the distinctive challenge of seeing the world from a wheelchair.
An excerpt written in November 1977 from Tokyo, reads: "As I was anticipating my date with the white throne ... I attended the washroom, which luckily has an oversized stall for the disabled. As I left the stall, I was surprised to see an elderly woman with what seemed like a handmade broom, sweeping out the men's room. She worked diligently and took no notice of me, but what really surprised me were the men at the urinals, going about their business, and taking no notice of her. My notions of the staid Japanese were immediately challenged and I realized that Asia was going to be a totally unique experience for me."
Balenovich has made numerous media appearances, including guest segments on Canada AM and Breakfast TV, sharing his adventures about backpacking --usually unaccompanied --on all six habitable continents.
The well-known author will share more exciting excerpts from his book at the Dunnville Public Library on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 p. m.
"I have been contacted by Joyce, the Coordinator of the Dunnville Branch of the Haldimand-Norfolk Library, about speaking there in September," he said. "Apparently, some library patrons from the community had heard me speaking last month at the Hagersville Abilities Centre and really enjoyed listening to some of my adventures. Dunnville is one of my favourite towns in Ontario, and it would be great to meet some of the disabled community along the Grand River."