Sunday, 10 September 2017

First Challenge, First Chair

Hello there sunshine and welcome back! Ok ok, let me yell at myself for you... "Welcome back!? I didn't go anywhere! Where have YOU been??? You think it's ok to just leave for months after introducing your new adventure? What kind of blogger are you anyways? You're fired! After you catch up on all the adventures you neglected to tell us about..." Sound about right? Well let me fix the situation... and then maybe you'll un-fire me... de-fire me... take-back-firing-me... You get what I'm saying...

Let's go all the way back to December 2016... even though we're almost at December 2017... December 4th my alarm rudely woke me up at 5:00 in the morning. I rolled over, looked at my clock, shivered, pulled my blankets over my head, and tried to remind myself why I willingly chose to wake myself up that early. (Admittedly, when I first woke up I did all of those things plus throw up...) I had a dislocated rib and was just starting to come down with the stomach flu. So why was I awake in the wee hours of the morning when I was vomiting and had a dislocated rib? Because first chair of the season waits for no man, woman, child, or grumpy/sick/hurting Grace. Scott and I had been planning first chair to be our first adventure for months. Scott had camped in front of Timber chair in freezing temperatures, along with the necessary but not comfortable bed partner of my sit ski, so I could be a trail blazer. And I wouldn't be the Grace that I am if I let a little puke and pain stop me from conquering a new challenge! Puke be damned, my reputation was on the line!

I forced myself to get up, told my mom that I was sorry I was making her get up this early, spent the next hour getting into my under layers (not kidding, that's how long it takes), managed to get down half a piece of toast, threw it up before leaving, grabbed my outerwear, and said a last minute prayer that I wouldn't be sick again while loading the chair. My overactive imagination did what it always does in high-pressure situations... I could picture the newspaper headlines... "First Disabled Girl to Puke on First Chair". Ok Grace, deep breaths... In through the nose... Out through the mouth... I hate admitting that Scott's breathing exercises, which he nags me to do pretty much every time we're together, do actually work... We pulled up to the parking lot near the Timber chair, and the first person I saw was Scott, followed by at least 100 other people in line. Scott was all smiles and energy, which is surprising considering that he slept outside in December, until he saw my face. "How are you?" he said, "Besides green?" At that point I was just trying not to lose my mind... Ok ok, trying not to lose the rest of my mind...

I spent the next half an hour getting my outerwear on and trying not to sound like a basket case for the newspaper reporter. The next thing I knew, Scott was setting me into my sit ski, clipping me in, and whisking me over to the chairlift. I joined Ryan and G-Money, the other two incredible individuals who camped at the hill the night before. This would be the sixteenth first chair for G-Money, and I felt truly honoured to be sharing it with him. As I looked down the line of 100 eager faces waiting for the chairlift to open, I couldn't help feeling overwhelmed and grateful. That moment was the beginning of a new season for each of those individuals. A season full of new memories, adventures, discoveries. The energy of that moment was almost tangible. And there I was, a disabled skier, about to experience a skier's "right of passage". I wasn't disabled in that moment. I was a skier... which means more to me than words can describe. But at the same time, I was disabled, and I was being a trail blazer. It thrilled me that I could make this statement for the adaptive community. Impossible can be just an attitude, not a reality, not a definition, not a label, and never final. I was so proud that I could have that experience if only to show that anything is possible.

"You see this ticket?" said Sir Scott. "It's going on your sit ski, and it's not going to get covered or come off unless it's another first chair ticket." As the time grew nearer to load the first chair, the energy of the crowd stepped up a notch. The cheers, the hoots and hollers, the laughter, it was brilliant! And then the countdown began... "10, 9, 8, 7..." The crowds cheered, the Fernie Alpine Resort banner dropped, we skied onto the platform, chair number 1 whisked us away, and just like that it was over. I looked at the people beside me, heard the excitement behind me, and made a point of capturing the memory in my mind forever. The day I became the first sit skier to get first chair at Fernie Alpine Resort, and the beginning of many more adventures... Come back soon to hear more...

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Another Adventure Begins: Project Heli!

When separate, the words "what" and "if" can never amount to much. But put them together, and you have something powerful enough to change the world. "What if" is the key to unending possibilities. "What if" is a challenge to go beyond what is considered normal. "What if" can be a daunting term, which beckons into the unknown. "What if" can be the start of a new adventure. Asking myself "what if" has proved to be all of these things. It has opened a new chapter in my life and promises to leave me with memories to last a lifetime. "What if" is what brought me to my newest adventure... Project Heli.

"You have memories to look back on," Facebook told me one morning in May. Sometimes I would click on the friendly notification to take a walk through memory lane, either to smile at some forgotten thought or snapshot of the past, or to cringe over the ignorance of my youth. On May 19th as I scrolled through my memories for the day, one particular video caught my eye. "The Edge of Impossible" was the title. Curiosity got the better of me as I clicked the play button. I was instantly caught up in the journey of Tony Schmiesing, a quadriplegic sit skier, and his quest to become the first tandem bi-skier to heliski in Alaska. I watched his story with excitement, awe, and admiration. And when the video was done, those two little words popped into my mind. What if... My first instinct was to completely dismiss the idea as impossible. But I knew better... Now that the idea was there I could not dismiss it. Not till I had proven whether it was truly impossible or not... I quickly hit the share button on the video and sent it to Scott. He called me a few minutes afterwards. "Do you really want to try this Grace?" he said. "Because we know it's possible, so why can't we?" Why can't we? His words echoed through my mind. It was in that moment that our next ski adventure was born.

"What about Slaying Dragons?" Scott said as we were having a chat through messenger one night. Throughout the scheming phase of our new adventure, we had decided a documentary would be the best way to capture such a landmark. We already had Fernie photography great, Kyle Hamilton, on board to show my life through the lens. But finding a name which reflected all that the project was proved difficult. I skimmed through the list I had come up with, but I knew none of them could be the one. It had to have a certain ring to it. Something that would attract interest. I stared blankly at Scott's name and picture on messenger for a few moments, as if that would somehow help me to have a flash of brilliancy. But surprisingly that's when it came to me! "Short Sleeves and Burnt Pants?" I quickly typed. It was a little odd, and surely no one would understand that it was what our last names meant in French, and yet I felt like I had something... "Short Sleeves, Burnt Pants and...." Goggles? No. Dragons? No. "Short Sleeves, Burnt Pants, and Powder Skis?" I said as a final attempt. I saw the familiar "..." to let me know Scott was typing. "Winner winner chicken dinner! That's it!" Was the response I got. The Short Sleeves, Burnt Pants, and Powder Skis: Project Heli page appeared on Facebook shortly afterwards. The next few weeks were filled with planning, drafts and more drafts of sponsorship letters, hundreds of texts between Scott and I with plan As and plan Bs. After nagging my brother to use his artistic talents and design a logo for the project, he finally caved in and created something that perfectly reflected what we were tring to accomplish. Sponsor letters were sent out to heli companies, so all we had to do was wait... 

I had just about finished my routine walk around Fernie one beautiful day in summer when I heard the cheerful ring of my cellphone. I looked down at my phone to see Scott's name flash across the screen, and quickly told him I'd call back when I got home. "Hurry, you'll want to hear this... Call me!" His text said. My heart immediately went to my throat. I knew what it was, and the excitment I felt was overwhelming. I put my wheelchair in high gear and bolted home as fast as I could.
"Are you sitting down?" Scott said. I rolled my eyes and heaved a sigh at this usual sassy comment. "Purcell is in Grace!" The news sent me through the roof! Project heli went from being a bunch of hopeful plans to one step closer to reality. Shorty afterwards we found out our plan B, catskiing with Fernie Wilderness Adventures, also came together in the most amazing way. The support I've had from Purcell Heliskiing and FWA has been so overwhelming, it brings me to tears knowing they think I'm worthy of their sponsorship. 

As plans for the most epic season ever continued, heliskiing became the second to last adventure on our list. It would start with first chair of the season at Fernie Alpine Resort, conquering Polar Peak, a goal Scott and I had from the previous season, catskiing with Fernie Wilderness Adventures, heliskiing with Purcell Heliskiing, spending a few days in Whistler, and topping it all off with last chair of the season. Scott's goal was to give me every recreational skiing experience possible, and by our ambitious list of quests, the season of 2017 would not disappoint! So many dreams, dreams that would not only take me where I never expected to go, but also would break down barriers and preconceived notions of what is possible for individuals with disabilities. The season promised to be unlike any other... Stay tuned to find out more... :)

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Conquering The Saddle!

Hello there sunshine and welcome to another post!

My spirits were slightly low as I dressed in my ski gear for our final day in Whistler. With us leaving the next day, and this being our last day of skiing for the season, everything felt bittersweet. Had I known what was in store for me that morning I might have been more excited... All I knew was that Scott was taking me to ski The Saddle. Going up the gondola, The Saddle was just another run, coming down the gondola at the end of the day, The Saddle would represent victory and freedom. And one of the most terrifying runs I've ever been on... This day, with its mix of victory and terror, will forever hold the title "favourite ski adventure of 2016"! Whistler will have a special place in my heart because of it...

"That's The Saddle right there," Scott said on the way up the Peak chair. I glanced at The Saddle, then at Scott, then at Sarah. Sarah, the president of Whistler Adaptive and an all around fantastic human being, skied with us for the morning and took part in our glorious adventure. While riding the chair, we talked about our programs, which left me feeling slightly small in comparison to the superiority of Sarah's role as president of such a hugely successful program. I also attempted to tease Scott into feeling intimidated about sitting next to two lady presidents. My attempts to intimidate Scott are usually futile... Intimidating people in general is not my strong point... I took another sideways glance at The Saddle. "It doesn't look so bad," said my mind. Well reader, my mind was wrong... Yes, from the chairlift The Saddle did look non-threatening, but it is an entirely different beast when you're at the top of it.

Had Scott given me a moment's pause at the top, I may have had time to reconsider attempting to ski it. The Saddle is by far the steepest run I have ever looked down upon, and the fact that Scott wanted me to ski it made me wonder what I did to make him want to kill me. Maybe that was his plan all along, and he convinced Sarah to be in on it too! "Maybe I should've told my mother I loved her before leaving," I thought to myself. Giving me time to pull out of something is not Sir Scott's style, which I know all too well now... We barrelled over the top of The Saddle with no hesitation whatsoever, until we heard the sound...The sound that has the same skin-crawling effect as nails on a chalkboard... The sound was pure, rock hard ice under our skis... Neither of us had expected that. We pulled off to the side immediately to collect ourselves. I think this was the first time in our skiing together that Scott was noticeably nervous. I tried to distract myself by watching the other skiers, only to see that most of them were SIDESLIPPING down the run. Ironic if you ask me... Sarah had already made her way down the run and was filming us from the bottom. Filming our epic crash that would receive millions of views on Youtube. I'd be dead, but at least I'd be famously dead... My other comfort was in knowing that my mother would most likely kill Scott after discovering that he killed me on The Saddle... At least there's justice in this world!

When we were ready to continue, I took a deep breath, cleared my mind as best as I could, and braced myself for the first turn. If you ski, you might be able to relate to the butterfly feeling you get in your stomach when you make the first turn on a steep slope. I immediately discovered how thrilling those butterflies were. One turn, two turns, and before I knew it we had found our rhythm and were descending the run turn by turn. I'm sure my continuous scream of terror and joy was heard from Whistler all the way back to Fernie.... That's when it hit me. That ultimate sense of freedom that I had been hoping for. I completely forgot that I was in a sit ski, because for once I was doing something exciting and daring, slightly dangerous and at the same time thrilling. As we neared the end of the run, and I realized that I was indeed still alive, fear gave way to pure joy, and I found myself laughing and in tears all at the same time. Scott, who was apparently just as happy as I was to still be alive, began to hoot and holler and yell "THAT WAS AWESOME"! We were both laughing as we spun around and came to a stop at the bottom. The only thing that came to my mind at that moment was, "HOLY SHIT!" But apparently my mind decided thinking holy shit wasn't enough, because before I knew it, holy shit exited my lips with a louder volume than I had anticipated... Scott was pretty amused by this having never heard me swear before, and tried to make me repeat it for the camera, which I ignored. Skiing The Saddle and surviving was one thing... Swearing and surviving my mother is quite another... Her glare is like death...

Scott turned me around so we could stare at The Saddle and try to grasp what we had just done. I felt like I had been given a precious gift as I looked at that slope. There have been many times in my life when I felt like giving something up because of fear. But sit skiing has taught me that fear is the driving force behind victory. The Saddle was like the pinnacle of this journey of self-discovery I have been embarking on. The Saddle was my break through. The fear lasted only a moment, but the joy and the victory will last a lifetime. Conquering The Saddle will forever hold a special place in my heart.

I am forever thankful that I was given the opportunity to ski again this season. What I have seen and done this year was certainly beyond what I could ever imagine, and although not every experience was pleasant, the results have taught me so much about myself and have been a true joy in my life. The instructors who skied with me were my rocket fuel, taking me to new heights, and blessing my life beyond words. To everyone who was involved in my ski adventures this season, I say thank you... Thank you with all of my heart...


Thursday, 20 October 2016

I'm a Real Skier Now!

Hello there sunshine! Welcome back to the tales of ski adventuring! This post is brought to you by... Smiling... It's good for you... :)

Being in Whistler was a little surreal for me after having been there for the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Paralympics. Little fourteen-year-old Grace was completely caught up in the spirit of the games that had infected Whistler village many years ago. It was as if this spirit had been saturated into the ground, and into the very walls of the buildings, as twemty-year-old Grace walked through the village. I think the best way to describe Whistler is upbeat. There's a constant excitement that just seems to hang in the air and pulsate through every living creature. The feeling is so real it's almost tangible. But I think to truly know the essence that is Whistler, one must go there and experience it in person, which I highly recommend of course.

Our first day was spent getting to know the workings of Whistler Adaptive Snow Program, a massive, hugely successful, and slightly intimidating program. Winter sports are just one of the many recreational outlets for WASP. We spent the morning listening to presentations by the individuals who make this organization a success. The amount of work and effort it takes to run a program with hundreds of members is completely overwhelming... In comparison, my getting stressed over the 40 members involved with my program seems utterly ridiculous. I crammed so much information into my poor head that morning I felt sure my brain was going to explode. In the afternoon there was even more learning to be done, as we participated in an Autism/cognitive delay course offered exclusively by Whistler Adaptive. By the end of the day I think my brain did explode...

The next day I was up bright and early, buzzing with excitement and anticipation over my first day of skiing. After skiing with me in Fernie, Wylie insisted on being the one to introduce me to all the wonders of Whistler Blackcomb. I must say that being on his own turf made Wylie a completely different person. I've been carefully considering how to describe Wylie so my readers can understand him... Dearest reader, I admit to my own defeat in this circumstance. There are no words I could possibly use to describe Wylie... To attempt it would be an injustice. Furthermore, to praise any of his qualities would only fuel his ego, which is something one simply must not do as a rule. To that effect, Wylie is quiet, boring, plays it safe at all costs, and isn't at all pleasant to be around. There, I tried.

The first day out on skis was really just spent trying to get to know my surroundings, Wylie, and the fact that the mountain is HUGE! It takes two gondola rides to get to the very top, and the weather at mid-mountain can be completely different than at the top. We took it easy to begin with, staying at mid-mountain and going slow. That was partly due to Wylie and I trying to adjust to each other, and partly because it was raining and extremely foggy. I skied all morning, took a lunch break, and went back out again in the afternoon, which I will mention is the longest I've ever skied at one time.

The next day was one of my favourite days of the whole week. Why? It was the first time I had ever been on the very top of a mountain. The day before Wylie had promised he'd take me on the Peak chair, and I spent the whole evening wondering what it was going to be like. Well, if I'm honest, I spent most of the night wondering if I really belonged up there. Going to the top of mountains was for real skiers, and in my mind, I wasn't one of them. I tried to push these thoughts away as we rode the chair to the top. I like to think I have a pretty creative imagination, but not even I could dream up what I saw when we cleared the chairlift. Again this is a scene that my words will fail to describe, other than to say that it was the most majestic view I've ever seen. Wylie let me sit there for a while, drinking in the beauty of my surroundings. One could turn in a complete circle and see mountains on all sides. Each peak has a personality and character of its own. As we skied a little farther, we came to look out over a lake, so crystal clear it reflected the mountains surrounding it with perfect accuracy. Everything I saw felt like a dream, and yet, so wonderful it couldn't be a dream. I couldn't be more thankful that Wylie gave me the opportunity to see the world in such a way. I won't ever be able to forget it.

After coming back to reality, even though it WAS reality which is still hard to believe, Wylie took me to ski an area he knew I'd love. The run weaves through the trees, and when the sunlight shines through the open spaces, it casts the most enchanting shadows on the snow. I kind of felt bad for Wylie, because instead of paying attention to our synchronization, I watched the light and the shadows move as we passed them. As we came to the bottom of the run, I found myself saying something I never in my wildest dreams expected to say.
"I feel like a real skier you know," I said. I could literally feel the glow radiating from my cheeks. "I can't believe I just said that! But it's true. For once in my life I'm doing something everyone else gets to do, and I don't feel different. I feel what everyone else feels. I saw what everyone else sees. I don't know... I just... I feel like a real skier. I AM a real skier." I have Wylie to thank for this victory, and I'll keep that day in my heart forever.

The goal was to ski every Alpine lift on both Whistler, the "light side" according to Mr. Wylie the Gandalf Jedi, and Blackcomb, the "dark side". And we did just that! Wylie lost his Gandalf Jedi powers upon arrival on the dark side, and was dismayed when I informed him that I liked the dark slightly better than the light... In my best smart ass manner I reminded him of that the entire week.

By the end of the week, I had skied more than I think I ever have before, learned that Wylie doesn't take to teasing very well (which I used to my advantage of course), and saw myself and my abilities in a whole new light. I was having the time of my life, and didn't believe it could get any better, but little did I know what was waiting for me on our very last day. Be sure to come back for the last installment of my Whistler excursion, and my favourite adventure of all! Coming soon! :)

Click here for Whistler skiing video:

Monday, 17 October 2016

Ski Bum Hits the Road...

Hello there sunshine and welcome to today's fabulous posting!

I now come to the end of my ski adventure tales and the highlight of my 2016 season. But first, I shall begin with a bit of background on how this all came about. At the beginning of the season, I had the pleasure of skiing with an instructor from Whistler Adaptive Snow Program, who was visiting Fernie for a few days. Wylie participated in my magical first day back on skis and even had a run with me himself. He felt extremely satisfied at having made me go "woohoo"... While we were on the chairlift he talked about doing an exchange between Fernie and Whistler as a training opportunity. He mentioned including me as well so I could participate in their program. I had heard of the magnificence of Whistler Blackcomb before, but in my mind, it was the place where "real skiers" went and never considered it feasible for myself. But the thought of giving it a try excited me, and all the more so for our instructor team, as the training opportunity would be fantastic. Wylie said he'd see if he could make it work and promised to call later on.

My work with FIRE kept all notions of going to Whistler out of my mind for a while, but sure enough, a couple weeks later Wylie called me with a plan. Myself, my mum, and a group of three Fernie instructors were to participate in their program for four days in April! Whistler Adaptive fundraised to cover our accommodations and tickets, I was given a bursary to cover the costs for my lessons, and FIRE sponsored our travel, making the whole trip for the most part taken care of. Our society chose the instructors they wanted to send, hotels were booked, schemes were made, and excitement was high.

Because I was going to be at the coast, it was decided that mum, Scott, and I would leave early to visit my seating technician, Russ, in Vancouver. Having come up with a seating arrangement that worked for my needs, we decided to have Russ make me something that wasn't a big pile of foam held together by duct tape... Scott came with us to learn all he could from the seating system master... The technique Russ used for my system is called foam-in-place. Liquid foam is poured into a large garbage bag and then formed to fit the shape of my back. As the foam cools it hardens and becomes solid in the desired shape. Because the foam expands while hardening, I have to be tightly strapped against it to keep from being pushed out. Let's just say it made for the picture perfect moment... To finish it off Russ covered it with fabric, which just so happens to be my favourite colour... PURPLE!!! Russ knows me so well. It took two days to complete, but at the end, I had a beautiful new seating system for the sit ski.

Scott went straight to Whistler, while mum and I stayed a night to wander around in Vancouver. We visited Granville Island, spending way too much money and eating way too much food in true Granville Island fashion. I also tried sushi for the first time, expecting to hate it, but ending up loving it. We stayed at our favourite hotel, The Sunset Inn and Suites, took a late evening stroll down English Bay, and concluded the night by watching the sky turn pink on our balcony while drinking Earl Grey tea. The highlight of the mini Vancouver vacation was definitely spending five hours exploring Stanley Park. We walked through tree covered paths, were almost run over by a raccoon, and made friends with the flowers we met on the road. The park is filled with beautiful trees, some of which look astute and wise from their many years on earth.  As I walked past them, I imagined them with long, snowy white beards, nightcaps, and circular reading glasses. I sat beneath them and looked through their branches, thinking about how small I was in comparison. As we broke through the trees, we walked alongside the ocean, watching the seagulls tease each other in the skies, and the boats bobbing peacefully along the sea. We then hiked to the top of a hill to enjoy a very healthy lunch of granola bars and donuts and oranges, The oranges cancel everything else by the way... So does the hike beforehand... This day of taking in the beauty around us ended rather abruptly after discovering my wheelchair was out of battery power upon ascending a hill. I had to be rescued by a park ranger, a very handsome park ranger I might add, making me the damsel in distress I suppose. I'll be a damsel anytime if my rescuer looks like that! ;)

I said goodbye to my beloved Vancouver and we made our way to Whistler. And what glorious adventures took place in Whistler? You'll have to come back and find out...

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Insecurity, body positivity, and shame...

Hello there sunshine and welcome to another post!

I am going to be switching gears for this one... I just want to say before I get going that this will be one of the hardest things I'll ever write. I'm going to be opening up about the negativities that are part and parcel of having a disability. I'll be conveying feelings that might be hard for the reader to get through. But I think it's important for this to be brought into the light. And just as a disclaimer... I am NOT fishing for compliments or trying to make the reader pity me. Again, I am merely saying what has been hidden inside of me for many many years. Here it goes...

My intent in starting this blog was to give people an inside look into what living with a disability is like. I think society has many preconceived ideas about what having a disability means, but I can say with complete confidence that 100 percent of them are either romanticized, incorrect, or just plain ignorant. In fact, the ignorance astounds me sometimes for living in 2016. Anyways... I wanted to show people that we are capable of living normal lives, as well as doing whatever we set our minds to. But I also want to be completely honest about what bothers me, and even hurts me, from the way people treat me and view me. Most people don't even realize they're doing it, but that's why I need to be candid and open their eyes.

If you walk past the magazine racks in the grocery store, you are most likely going to see pictures of "flawless women" telling the world they are "body confident". And as you flip through the pages of one photoshopped woman after the other, the song "Beautiful" is played over the PA system, trying to portray the same message. Here we go for honestly... Nothing makes me angrier than seeing the words body confident in relation to these perfect women. It's the easiest thing in the world for these women to look at their absolutely normal bodies in the mirror and say they are body confident. But try looking in the mirror with a body like mine. I don't even know what body confident means. If I closed myself off to all human contact then maybe, just maybe, I could learn to have body confidence. But as soon as I step out my door, I have to fight something big, something ugly, something that threatens to consume me. Insecurity and shame. By insecurity, I don't mean, "Oh, I have a big nose... I'm insecure..." I fight the insecurity and shame of being constantly aware of my deformities and feeling like I belong on another planet because of them.

My whole life I've had to put up with people putting a negative light on my body. I have to endure the staring, the hurtful comments, the inappropriate questions. If you have a disability, you're basically born with thick skin, because it's the only way to survive. After years and years of being pointed out like the wart of humanity, it becomes hard to look in the mirror and not believe it. I even try to avoid going in public places because of the things I hear. I'll walk past someone and, "What's wrong with her?" "Why does she look like that?" "Why are her feet bent like that?" And it goes on and on. Then there are the questions, "Excuse me, if you don't mind me asking, what happened to you?" If I'm honest, yes, yes I do mind. Is that how you start a conversation with a stranger? Why on earth would you presume that I'm going to tell you something so personal about myself when you don't have the decency to have a normal conversation with me first. Start by actually making the effort to show that you respect me by taking the time to get to know me first. ME, not my disability, not my wheelchair, because YES there is a distinction. I am just so baffled by the nerve of people sometimes. It is NOT ok people, and quite honestly, I am NOT obligated to give a nice answer, which I always do. But if you really knew how I'm feeling on the inside... The shame... The hurt... If you really knew, I would hope you'd think twice before asking, simply to satisfy some petty curiosity of yours. Sorry if this is hard to read...

I have gone through many stages of love and hate in regards to my body. I think the hardest thing is when I look in the mirror, what I look like on the outside does not reflect who I feel like I am on the inside. I try to close my eyes and imagine the wheelchair away. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When I was younger I tried to hide the things that made me insecure. There's a song that describes it perfectly, "And I don't want the world to see me, cause I don't think that they'd understand." People used to always point out my clubbed feet, so I would wear socks every minute of the day, even while swimming. Going out exposed in a swimsuit was the hardest thing for me to do, and since it only attracted more negative attention, I haven't been to the pool in over 10 years. I was told in high school that I looked like a cow when I ate, so for the longest time, I wouldn't eat in front of people. When we had guests, I would eat in my room. When we went out, I wouldn't eat till we got home. I would wear tons of makeup to try and make myself feel pretty. For many years I was controlled by my insecurities. Not only that, but I dealt with a lot of emotional hurting. Finally, around a year ago, I decided I couldn't possibly cater to my shame anymore. I was tired of it all. I was tired of believing the lies. I stopped wearing makeup, I went barefoot through the house, I started eating in front of people. It took a long time for me to find the courage to do all that mind you. But here's what I finally realized. I shouldn't have to build up the courage to be me. God made me who I am, and that's all there is to it. I shouldn't have to hide who I am so I don't attract negative attention from people. And I am NOT the one who should be ashamed... It's a work in progress, but I'm taking it one step at a time.

Accepting who I am has been a challenge, but I'd say the hardest thing about having a disability is being judged by my outward appearance. Having meaningful relationships with people is one of the most difficult parts of my life. It all comes down to this... People only go skin deep. They don't take the time to open the book, to peel back the wrapping, and get to know what's on the inside. I feel it constantly. That invisible wall. I want you to understand me. But if you're going to understand, you HAVE to throw away those preconceived ideas. You have to dig down deep. When you do, you'll find out that I'm just like everyone else. I have likes and dislikes, I have opinions, I have dreams. If you want all that, you know what you have to do? Treat me like I'm human. My heart beats just like yours. So I look a little different. So I use a wheelchair to get around. So what! At the end of the day, I'm living, breathing, and just trying to survive in this ridiculous day and age just like you. And there are many more like me, waiting for someone to find the key. The next time you see someone with a disability, whether mental or physical, put yourself in their shoes and treat them the way you want to be treated. Remember, we need love, support, and friendship just as much as you.

This whole post stems from a conversation I had a couple days ago with someone I just met. This person ended up joining my mom and I for coffee, and after a few minutes of talking, they surprised me with this... They told me my hands were beautiful and delicate. Never in the history of my life have I heard someone refer to my body in such a positive way. It completely blew me away, and I was touched more than words can describe. When I told them I had never heard that before, they explained that they were an artist and enjoyed seeing things from a different perspective. I immediately looked down at my hands and wondered if they really were beautiful. I can't say I completely believe them, but what touched me the most about this scenario is that this person took the time. Took the time to see who I am from a different perspective. It is truly a shame this is the first time someone made a comment about my body that was positive. It was one of the most touching experiences I've had in a long time.

Will I ever know what it means to be body confident? I don't know... What I do know is that you can do something to help. The next time you see me, or someone like me, remember that it takes a lot for me to be out in the world with a smile on my face. Sometimes it takes a lot just to look you in the eyes. Remember that we are all different. We were made to be unique. I am unique because I have a disability, but more so because of who I am. And that's a very good thing. Show respect, take the time, find the key, and what you discover might just surprise you.

Friday, 30 September 2016

CT's, Neck Braces, and National Awards...

Hello there sunshine and welcome to today's post!

The ski adventure tales continue! This was probably the lowest point of my ski season. But oddly enough it also resulted in more self-discovery and a very unexpected honour. It's funny how that goes sometimes...

Literally the day after my adventure up White Pass, myself, my mother, Sir Scott, and a group of other instructors and students from FIRE set off to the Canadian Association of Disabled Skiing (CADS) Festival. CADS Festival is a week-long national event, where members of adaptive snow programs from all over Canada come together to ski. Students are paired with two instructors at random, and lower level instructors are paired with higher levels for training. It's a win-win for everyone! It's an amazing week of fun, fellowship, and learning all at once.

CADS Festival travels around to different locations each year, but every two years it takes place at a resort just an hour and a half away from us, hence why we all got to go. Because I wear two hats, president of FIRE and a student, the week was a mixture of work and play... But mostly play... Sir Scott and I just so happened to be paired together for the week and were pretty excited to give my new seating a thorough testing. We both couldn't have been happier with the results, as I skied for five straight days with little to no discomfort. Well... For the most part... I'll get to that... This was another huge victory because I have never been able to ski for more than two hours per week. The glory of this accomplishment lasted two whole days... and then disaster struck... my head... on the snow...

I won't go into any detail about the events leading up to it, except to say that at the time I was skiing with a different instructor, and things didn't go as planned. Before I continue I want to say that this instructor is amazing at what he does. Accidents happen, especially in a sport like skiing! So without saying too much about the why, unfortunately I had a nasty fall, with the sit ski flipping upside down... I don't remember much of what happened before, or when the fall actually happened. One minute I was skiing, the next minute I was being picked up after being on my head. Scott was immediately at my side asking me if I was ok. The first thing I said was that I hit my head hard and I had a blazing headache. Admittedly I said this while trying to harness every bit of self-control I possessed not to burst into tears. The fact that the snow was icy and hard, and the impact of the fall on my head, was enough to scare me more than I care to admit. Scott being a former member of ski patrol came in handy, and he quickly checked me for a concussion. Nothing appeared to be wrong at that point except a headache though. After doing more tests, all of which I struggled to get through without crying, Scott took over and we gently headed down to the base.

A million thoughts flooded my mind in the time it took to get down. The pain in my head, neck, and left shoulder were increasing, which of course wasn't very encouraging. I thought the whole way down about the fact that this fall was very similar to the one that prevented me from skiing for two years. Would I have to go to the hospital? Did I break something? What about my neck? Had I undone all of the recovery progress I had made? Would I have to give up skiing for another two years? That consequence would be devastating, especially since I had only just started skiing again. The pain and these thoughts were becoming so overwhelming I just couldn't take it. Now this is the part that I'm still beating myself up over. Once we reached the bottom, and Scott knelt in front of me to see how I was, I just broke down and cried... I have to mention that Scott handled this situation amazingly well and I couldn't be more impressed.

This is where the self-discovery part came in. Even though I shed a few tears, and was pretty worried and scared, I managed to ignore it and remain my smiley self. My lifelong, somewhat debilitating fear of pain was starting to lose its grip on me! I was starting to feel like I had a breakthrough! Scott got me some ice, did his best to keep me distracted, checked for concussion symptoms again, and then said the dreaded words... "I'm taking you to the hospital."

Hospitals and I don't get along... at all... Ever since the horrors of bone surgery when I was four I've been terrified of them. The moment I heard those words, fear tightened its grip on me. For a moment anyway, but after that moment passed I went right back to joking and smiling. The half an hour drive there wasn't exactly pleasant pain wise, but I couldn't believe how well I was taking it. Just to give you an idea, usually pain and hospitals cause major emotional upheaval for me... But I made the whole trip with not the least bit of my emotions playing up, and even was able to enter the hospital with a smile. A HUGE breakthrough for me.

I had to wear a neck brace the whole time, went in for about 10 x-rays on my shoulder and a CT on my neck, but managed to pull through just fine. Mainly because my x-ray technician was extremely sexy... did I write that out loud!? No broken bones, just a small concussion and muscular swelling in my neck. Later on, I found out that I actually tore my rotator cuff in my left shoulder and sustained another whiplash injury, but in the grand scheme of things, it could have been much worse.

I shocked myself and a few others, including my mother, by requesting the next afternoon to get back in the sit ski and go for a run. But here's my logic on this, which really just stems from knowing myself all too well... If I didn't jump right back in and face my fears, I knew it would get harder and harder, to the point where I wouldn't want to ski again. So to prevent that from happening, I simply forced myself to "get back in the saddle" again. And I couldn't be more thankful that I did.

The evening after my accident was banquet night, which resulted in a very unexpected surprise, but most of all a great honour. During the evening, the CADS national board presented awards to outstanding members of clubs across Canada. A very special award was given to an instructor who will forever remain a legend in my eyes. Vince was the craziest, most adventurous, and unique man I have ever known. He was the most deserving of the award Volunteer of the Year. I hope you're flying high in heaven Vince! When I am able to get my own sit ski one day, I shall name it Vince. My emotions were running high after Vince's award, and honestly, I was hardly paying attention to the next award being presented. All of a sudden I heard my name being called! But for what? What did they say? Administrator of the Year!? If I didn't have my seatbelt on I'm sure I would've fallen over. I was in complete and utter shock. Had I really just won a national award? I was so overwhelmed, tears filled my eyes as I went up to receive the award. It took me a good long while before I was able to process what had just happened. I felt undeserving of such a great honour, but at the same time, I couldn't be more grateful and touched.

The week of CADS festival was full of ups and downs, but I've concluded that even the downs taught me something positive. I learned that I can have courage in the face of pain. Often I beat myself up because I feel like I'm not strong. The times when I'm not strong always distract me from seeing when I am. So in the end, I'm thankful that the fall helped me to realize who I am on the inside. I would never have felt it had it not been for that fall. As the saying goes, it doesn't matter how hard you fall, just as long as you get up and try again. And never, never stop trying. Never give up!