Orléans speed skater ‘surprised and touched’ by award
Kevin Frost had an extra special start to his training season last week for more than one reason. The deaf blind speed skater from Orléans was surprised with a United Way Community Builders award at a fundraising barbecue he was holding to raise money for his upcoming competitions.
The same day he also met Joanna Labonte. Her two year old son Campbell is deaf and blind, and she had been following Frost’s achievements on and off the ice.
At 32, Frost was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome, a condition that causes hearing loss at a young age and loss of vision later on.
With the diagnosis came many changes. Frost lost his driver’s license and his job. Now, at age 42, Kevin has 10 percent of his hearing and 4 percent tunnel vision.
He says he would not let the disability define him. He started speed skating shortly after his diagnosis and after long hours practicing on the track he is ranked 18th in the world in speed skating and has also started rowing as a summer sport.
Now, Frost is raising funds to compete in the 2010 Open Blind Cup in Russia and the World Masters Championship in Calgary. His ultimate mission is to get speed skating sanctioned as a sport in the Paralympics.
The Community Builders Award is given to individuals who give back to the community and work to make Ottawa a better place to live.
Frost recently completed a fundraising campaign to help a young deaf boy he met in Mexico while on vacation, raising more than $3,000 to give the boy hearing aids.
He has now started another fundraising mission to raise $6,000 for surgical procedures and supplies to help three more kids with vision and hearing disabilities.
“I was very touched and surprised when I received the award,” said Frost. “The speed skating is for me, it keeps up my spirits, but it’s great that maybe it can show others that life doesn’t end when something is taken away.”
Joanna Labonte’s son Campbell was born 13 weeks premature in August 2008. She and her husband Bert soon found out Campbell may have minimal hearing, and suffered from a condition called Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which leads to blindness.
“You can imagine that feeling of fear and confusion,” she says. “We did not know what to expect. We wondered, how will we be able to communicate with our son?”
Labonte and Frost met in person for the first time at Frost’s fundraising barbecue and surprise award ceremony last Thursday.
“I went over and introduced myself, expecting a handshake but got a huge hug instead,” she says. They spoke about support systems that exist for the deaf blind community and Frost gave her tips about how to communicate with Campbell.
“He said, ‘When I was little I would put my hand to a person’s mouth and that’s how I learned to speak.”
She got teary eyed as she explained, “Innately we already did that. We would put his hand to our mouth when we spoke. It gave me confirmation that what we were doing was right.”
For Frost, it was a chance to share his knowledge with a family in need. “This is why I do what I do,” he says. “When I met Joanna it was such a special moment. You could see that relief in her eyes, that yes, life can and will go on.”
Kevin Frost with his United Way Community Builders Award
Joanna Labonte with her son Campbell