Bethlehem man Ross Gemmell spent his life sailing and swimming, and was even called up for national service in the Army - all while living with a disorder that weakens and wastes away his muscles.

Now he has designed and built aids to help with daily tasks and hopes they will aid others.

The 70-year-old, who moved to Tauranga in June last year, was born with limb girdle muscular dystrophy - an inherited progressive disorder that affects the muscles of the hip, shoulder and other areas of the body - but it was not diagnosed until he was 36.

He first realised he might have a disorder, and why he was having trouble playing physical sport at school, when he was 8 years old. One day at lunchtime, when yet again confronted by bullies, a friend of Mr Gemmell told his tormenters to "leave him alone, he's a cripple".


He was astonished that another 8 year old had picked up on his problem when no adult had.

"I just thought I was a weakling, but I was quite strong mentally," he said.

Mr Gemmell, who is still very active, decided to create aid devices after the only aid he was given was a chair with four extendable legs.

He wanted to make devices so he could carry out everyday activities.

"It's very easy to say bugger off and give up," he said. "I don't intend to do that."

The aids he has created to make his daily life easier enable him to do simple tasks such as pick up a salt-shaker or pour a glass of water.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without them," he said.

He made an arm sling to help him pick up items while sitting at the table.

"It comes from my sailing days, with the bungee cords," he said.

"It's about thinking outside the square."

The arm sling, which he designed six years ago, cost Mr Gemmell about $500 to produce and took a year to create.

"It's just bits and pieces from hardware shops," he said.

He also created the "dancing pole" which enables easier use of his arm while in the kitchen but it can only be used for lifting light objects.

"It took a year to design. The first steel pole crashed through the ranch slider," he said.

Mr Gemmell is now looking to take his devices to the next level.

"I'm going to need to find an engineering company in Tauranga and look at how we can improve the aids," he said.

"I do believe there is a big market as our population ages."

He would like to see others with upper-body issues, such as people who had suffered strokes, also be able to use the devices.

Muscular dystrophy

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