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Jakarta Post

Sri Lestari: Three-wheeled adventurer

  • Trisha Sertori

    The Jakarta Post

Denpasar   /   Thu, June 13, 2013   /  10:04 am
Sri Lestari: Three-wheeled adventurer (J.B. DJwan)

(J.B. DJwan)

The genesis of a recent modified-motorcycle marathon from Jakarta to Bali began more than a decade ago. In 1997, Sri Lestari was looking forward to starting business school in Jakarta.

She was riding pillion on a motorcycle near her hometown of Manis Renggo in Central Java when was involved in an horrific accident with a fast moving truck. Sri was thrown from the bike and was somersaulted into a river. Her life was forever changed in that second.

'€œI don'€™t remember what happened, but I broke three vertebrae and am now a paraplegic from the ribs down,'€ says Sri during a two-day stopover at the Five Elements following her extraordinary '€œLiving without Limits'€ journey, riding her modified motorscooter from the capital to Bali through 21 cities in 20 days.

Sri said that her first year after the accident was emotionally scarring. '€œI was in the hospital for two months and never really got an answer about my condition. When people touched my feet, there was movement, so I was convinced I would walk again. The doctors told my parents I was paralyzed for life, but like me, my parents didn'€™t 100 percent believe this, because of the movement. I kept asking when would the feeling in my legs come back. No one ever told me the movement was just spasms,'€ says Sri. She was also offered physical therapy after she left the hospital, but again a paucity of information left the anxious young woman depressed and confused.

'€œI was stressed and scared. I was like a newborn baby. I couldn'€™t control my bladder '€” that made me even more depressed and I felt so unproductive.'€

Hoping to do the best by their daughter '€” and not understanding the benefits of physical therapy '€” Sri'€™s parents took her to a range of traditional healers.

'€œI was in the forest near Bojonegoro for eight months with a traditional healer. We had heard a paralyzed man from Madura walked after going there. The medicine man said I would walk after a year. I was massaged and fed herbs, special incense was burned and I drank the ash from that. Some masseurs would not believe that I could feel nothing and were angry with me,'€ says Sri of what was perhaps the worst time in her life.

Covered in bedsores and suffering from malnutrition, Sri was taken from the jungle to a doctor in Jakarta. He was horrified by her condition and rapidly set about healing the young woman, placing her in physical therapy and given Sri information on preventing bedsores. She was beginning to understand she would never walk again, but that there were things she could do to improve her health.

Sri stayed close to home, learning how to make beads and to embroider to help her family. Things changed in 2006, when Sri decided to undertake volunteer work making Braille books for the visually impaired.

'€œOn that very first day volunteering I heard about a motor bike I could drive while sitting in my chair,'€ says Sri of the moment her world began to brighten.

Within a few years '€” and with a lot of help from Caritas and other sponsors, including a good friend from Holland '€” Sri had her own modified motorcycle and discovered there was life after her accident.

'€œI was again independent and doing useful work,'€ says Sri, who is now a social worker in Yogyakarta with Wheels for Humanity Indonesia, an organization that supplies wheelchairs to people suffering from paraplegia, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and the other diseases or events that deny people the use of their legs.

'€œSo many people in need don'€™t have wheelchairs, so they are kept at home. Wheels for Humanity has given out 5000 wheelchairs in Indonesia already. The numbers supplied by the government are just not enough, and the government gives adult-sized chairs to children, which leads to scoliosis of the spine,'€ says Sri who, during her extraordinary trek from Jakarta to Bali, met with disabled organizations, field workers and former prisoners to share how others can also live life without limits.

Her journey was supported by local Bali hotels and Bumi Hijau, United Cerebral Palsy and the Annika Linden Center. The Bali team was outstanding says Sri, who also met with Soleman representatives and had a question and answer session during a TedX seminar at Five Elements.

This first journey nears its end, but is just the beginning of Sri'€™s limitless adventuring. Steering her wheelchair onto her modified scooter, she straps on her safety belt, pops on her helmet and is off and away, independent, confident and inspirational.

'€œI am thinking about Sumatra next,'€ she laughs, disappearing up the road and onwards in her life without limits.


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