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... :)