From my point of view - A Happy Place by Landon McGauley
From my point of view: A Happy Place by Landon McGauley
It is 8 O'clock in the morning on a clear crisp February morning. The smell of diesel fills the air as the chairlifts grunt to a start and struggles to warm up. Adjacent to the chair lift, a full the ski lodge boasts people with all kind of foreign accents from all over the world. In the back of the room, the cafeteria staff is busily running around making sure everyone gets there breakfast sandwiches and coffees before they head outside. In one corner of the cafeteria sits a rambunctious group of elementary students excited to get to spend their Friday out riding on the soft white snow instead of pent up inside the classroom. In the middle of the room sits a very eclectic group of individuals; there is a table of retired folks who like to get out and ski for exercise as well as to get out of the house and socialize with similar characters. At another table sits a group of Australians snow sport lovers who have come to Canada to work our winters, chase the snow around the globe, and now have had the fortune of getting this beautiful day off working odd jobs around the ski hill to get out and enjoy it. Beside them, a young, athletic race team sporting matching jackets keen to get out and train to become better ski racers. On the far side of the lodge is a table with a BC Adaptive Snowsports banner on it, sits a group of skiers with a disability excitedly getting ready to hit the slopes. There are four individuals sitting in wheelchairs ranging in age from 13 to 35 with varying levels of abilities as well as a young girl missing a leg. Around them, sit a few able-bodied individuals dedicated to helping these skiers make the most of their day. As the chairlift outside warms up and 8:30 hits the clock everyone takes there final sips from there coffees clicks their boots tight and makes their way outside.
For most people this is just a fun day to get out in the fresh air and enjoy all that the ski and snowboard world has to offer. They walk outside click in to their skis or snowboards and begin to ride but for the group from BC Adaptive Snowsports, this day represents something much, much greater. It offers them a chance to leave behind the struggles that each individual faces in their day-to-day life and opens the door to new opportunities and challenges. As the able body rider are able to quickly step into their equipment and make it to the lift the individuals in wheelchairs fall behind as they push across the soft snow towards there specialized adaptive sit skis and start the process of getting properly strapped in and connected to the equipment. The wheelchair user have many different straps and buckles to do up before they can begin to ride. For someone in a wheelchair day-to-day tasks become much harder and for people who have acquired disabilities through different sports accidents, car crashes or illnesses some tasks that were seemingly incredibly simple before may now be extremely challenging or in some cases even impossible. This puts an intense strain on the psyche and mental well-being of a person. Although learning how to ski in a completely different way than the average person is no easy task, it somehow feels completely different from struggling to relearn how to do a day-to-day task in a wheelchair. As this process comes to a fruition and the sit skiers are ready to ride the world becomes a much different place for them. The playing field is leveled and the gap between them and their abled-bodied peers is bridged. On the ski hill, they are two people who love to be outside and enjoy all that the ski hill can throw at them.
Enjoying this brisk February is a young girl who injured herself only two years ago and is just beginning to learn how to ski without her legs. She is struggling to make it down the run without falling every few turns. Despite this, she has a smile on her face that is visible from a great distance. She makes a few turns and then falls, has a laugh about it and then with the help of her instructor gets back up and points her ski back down the hill and begins to try again, this time making multiple turns before falling down again. After a few hours of falling and getting back up again and some pointers from some more experienced sit-skiers, she is loading the chair lift without assistances and making it through different terrain without falling. The day comes to an end and the smiles never fades, because these seemingly small wins on the hill today mean a new freedom, a new happiness and most importantly something that makes her feel great.
Landon McGauley is a former BC Para-alpine Ski Team member and a talented sit-skier. Known for his acrobatics on snow and his infectous personality, he shares his passion for adaptive snowsports with everyone he encounters. His story above is a great testament on how skiing brings bounds and freedom like no other for people with disabilities.
BC Adaptive Snowsports and Rocky Mountain Adaptive are proud to partner on All Mountain Camps for 2017 & 2018. Our next camp takes place at Sunshine Village in Banff, April 20-23.
** photo courtesy of Live it!Love it! Foundation. Credit: William Eaton