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.