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Happy Wheelers keep on rolling

Mobility around Manteca is goal for club members

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Happy Wheelers keep on rolling

Happy Wheelers of Manteca member Brad Peters, center, shows Manteca Bulletin Managing Editor James Burns photos that he has taken of non-accessible corners for wheelchairs in Manteca. Looking on is...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED February 8, 2014 1:30 a.m.

The arthritis in Joanne Johnston’s back and knees are so bad that the 69-year-old needs a wheelchair to get around town.

No biggie.

Her physical limitations haven’t limited her reach, even if there are those that believe she needs to be corralled at home.

Johnston can be spotted cruising Manteca’s bike lanes and sidewalks, venturing between the grocery store and restaurants, doctors appointments and the pharmacy.

She realizes there is a stigma attached to those in wheelchairs and scooters. A few years ago, Johnston and some wheelchair-bound friends were confronted by a stranger, who wondered why they didn’t prefer to stay home. 

Insulted, Johnston answered the stranger’s ignorance the only way she knew how: She kept on rolling.

“If we go to restaurants, and there would be about six of us, they’d see us and think ‘Oh, god, what are we going to do with these people?’ They think we don’t belong there. We were told because we were in wheelchairs that we need to stay at home. (The chairs) just get in the way,” Johnston said. “Where’s the fun in staying home all the time? At least this way we can get out – get our groceries and our medications.”

Johnston isn’t alone.

She is a longtime member of the Happy Wheelers of Manteca, a nonprofit group that provides support and camaraderie for those that require wheelchairs and scooters to get around. 

The Happy Wheelers meet every third Saturday of the month at United Lutheran Church on Northgate Drive near the Tidewater Bikeway.

There are 32 members in the group, which will celebrate its 22nd birthday later this year. There is no cost to join, just an expectation that you will protect, befriend and look out for your fellow Wheeler. 

The Wheelers host an annual garage sale on the second Saturday in May (May 10) to help cover their expenses, such as the monthly newsletter. The garage sale is staged at Joanne McNabb’s house. 

“That one day takes care of 99 percent of our activities for the year,” said McNabb, a member since 2001.

“We help each other, whether you’re in a walker, a wheelchair or whatever,” said Johnston, who was recruited by a friend 11 years ago. “We talk about where to get chairs fixed if you don’t have insurance to help fix them. We try to help with anything we can.”

Janet Manzitto has been a member of the Wheelers since 2000. She has osteoarthritis in her knees – “among other things,” she says. She can transfer herself in and out of her chair, but can no longer walk.

She believes the Wheelers can be an invaluable asset to those just learning to live with their disability, especially veterans who’ve been injured in the line of duty. It’s a safe place, she says, to ask questions and learn about life on wheels. 

“Most of us are varied as far as our conditions go,” she added. “Happy Wheelers gives us a place to go. Even though we have different disabilities, we have the same set of problems.”

She scoffs at the notion that the disabled should stay out of sight. Manzitto lives alone and has no one to assist her with her day-to-day responsibilities.

“If I need something,” she started, “I’ve got to do it for myself.” 

The Wheelers, she added, have helped her feel confident in her abilities. 

“As a group, we’re not limited by anything,” Manzitto said. “You can always stay in bed. You can always say, ‘Woe is me,’ but you have to get out there. That’s why I think it’s so good for people to see us out together.

“We’re a gang. We want people to know that if you’re in a wheelchair – so what.”

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