Mel Nicholls shot to public notice as a wheelchair racer when she successfully competed in the 2012 Paralympics in London & later in Rio. Earlier this year, Mel came across the border from Tewkesbury, to spend a day on the River Wye. This is her account of that adventure. We found her story to be truly inspirational and felt that you might like to read this extract from her blog,
London Paralympics 2012
Mel with her racing wheelchair “Dolly”
“THE WRONG WAY UP”
Mel Nicholls lived life as an adventure but after a series of life-changing strokes, a previously independent, fit and healthy young woman with a future career in education, was left unable to walk and use much of the left side of her body. Four years after watching the Beijing Paralympics from her hospital bed, Mel raced in the 2012 Paralympics in front of an 80,000 home crowd and the rest of the world. This is the story of Mel’s 2018 birthday adventure in Herefordshire:
Every year I am grateful to get another year older, to celebrate more memories made and people met. Since my strokes, making the most of the here and now and living for every day has got to be the answer to a happy life, whatever age.
This birthday was no exception. I decided to use my guilt-free me-day in the sunniest place here in Herefordshire, on my river of choice, the gorgeous River Wye.
After opening my birthday cards, I wanted to be outside for the whole day, to switch off from the world and keep life simple, clear my mind and follow my heart, back to basics.
A big challenge for me is always access to water - river, sea or lake, as I’m not able to carry my board far on my crutches. My launch was at Symonds Yat, I was helped by a kind guy carrying my board. I faced steep and narrow steps, about 10 of them. Trying to get my equipment down and me on crutches without going head first was tricky. Thankfully some kayakers took the board, while I just worried about myself. But like I always say, “There’s always a way”. My dry bag stashed with all the important things, bug spray, sun cream, water, lunch, and birthday cake was lashed to the board.
River Wye 2018
Mel on her “Wrong Way Up” adventure.
Happy Days. Crutches packed up front and I was away. The sun was already hot; I was out in Britain, paddling a river in my bikini & shorts! Crazy, but I liked it. I had made my choice to paddle up stream, against the current as a challenge. My plan was to paddle as far as I could. I had no idea how this would go, but I was excited to find out.
I love my paddle board just like any other, except it’s not. It’s a sit on top kayak and for me this is just perfect. I have a seat and back support, as I can’t stand up on my board, and my long single ended paddle can be transformed into a double kayak paddle. It’s really given me another avenue of freedom when I am a paddler, just like everyone else. Lots of people asked about my board, one guy calling it an ironing board!
I was the only one going upstream. My first rapids came quite early. I had no idea how to attack it but I was not about to turn around and go back. A family had stopped with their kayak on a pebble bank and I asked for advice, they had full confidence in my trying, especially the mum who was brilliant. The family and their dog cheered me on as I went for it, smashing through the water, as hard as I could, powering my way. It was so tough! Any miss with the paddle was a big mistake with the water pushing me backwards so fast, I was nearly through, I thought. But at that point my board snagged on a rock below and not able to get any purchase on the water with my paddles, the current quickly spun me around and promptly spat me back out the way I’d come. This was frustrating and was quickly becoming more of an adventure than I had expected.
I came up with a Plan B. I unstrapped my crutches and got in the water, as the family carried my board around the rapids, where I was able to hold it still just long enough to jump back on, stow my crutches and continue my paddle. My adventuring philosophy is to find a way; it might not be the way planned but there’s always a way!
There were more rapids; some I powered through. At times I had the fear halfway through of the water hitting me from every angle and I knew if I let up any effort for a second, I was done, wow it was tough going. Another time, I found my way to negotiate a rapid was to get off the board, lie with my arm on it holding it straight and secure and pushing through the shallow waters with my good arm and use my foot as a hold on the rocks. It was a very slow process, but it worked.
After two and a half hours I pulled to the shore. The gravel shallows were easy for me to land on and pull myself and the board up for a bit of a rest and some lunch. Behind me rolled lush green meadows and on the other side of the river, thick woodland that rose into the blue sky. There were hundreds of tiny fish in the shallows; I even had one land on my leg out of the water! No wonder this is such an incredible haven for wildlife, the waters are rich with nutrition. Thankfully, I had my own!
Taking a swim in the River Wye 2018
As I was so hot and dirty after sitting on the muddy shore, I decided on a swim. I kept my board leash attached and rolled in off the side. It was amazing. The water was warm but cooling to my sun-kissed, river dried skin, my sore hands and muscles felt relieved as I swam alongside my board in this summertime elixir. There was nowhere else in the world I’d had rather have been than right there at that moment. Nature and the great outdoors have everything to offer.
At four and a half hours of paddling, I was pretty exhausted and dehydrated, despite being surrounded by water. This was my sign to put down the anchor and take a break before starting the much quicker return journey. I was pretty pleased with myself; I was having the best time. It was definitely the right moment to enjoy my birthday cake, sat on my board in the river with a pink-iced bun as my prize for paddling the wrong way up a river to see if I could do it. The cake tasted amazing.
As birthdays go, this journey was a gift that kept on giving.
Mel on her New Hand Bike “Acorn” 2018
Winter training in the Canary Isles
Mel now runs her own company, providing motivational and leadership talks. She works with a number of organisations, including Hartpury College, and with Ordinance Survey promoting access to the countryside. She may be contacted at
Back home with Acorn
Named following her association with Hartpury College