SMIL­ING IN THE WIND

“The point of the pro­gram is to have fun. To watch oth­ers ski, to wave at peo­ple, or maybe just wait in the lift-line to see how it sounds, what it feels like – even if we’re not get­ting on the lift.”

Ottawa Business Journal - Ottawa at Home - - LIVING - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY MARK HOLLERON

The Ot­tawa area is blessed with an abun­dance of ter­rific down­hill ski­ing that makes sur­viv­ing a Cana­dian win­ter more palat­able for many avid skiers. Sev­eral times a week one of those skiers, Deanna Barry, can be seen bundling up and head­ing for the hills.

But Deanna has a par­tic­u­larly spe­cial pur­pose when she drives out west of Ot­tawa to Mount Pak­en­ham: To give peo­ple with phys­i­cal or devel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties a chance to hit the slopes.

“If you are phys­i­cally or de­vel­op­men­tally dis­abled, you are locked up some­how, but you still want to be able to do what oth­ers do,” notes Deanna, who also vol­un­teers her time teach­ing ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing for the other three sea­sons of the year.

As part of the Mount Pak­en­ham Adap­tive Ski Pro­gram, run by the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion for Dis­abled Ski­ing (CADS), Deanna vol­un­teers 20 hours a week co­or­di­nat­ing 49 vol­un­teers and of­fer­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary on-hill ex­pe­ri­ences to 55 skiers with a huge range of ages and abil­i­ties. “This year, our youngest skier is five, our old­est is 53, and they are af­fected by a va­ri­ety of is­sues from spina bi­fida to Down syn­drome to autism.”

In ref­er­ence to the bucket seats rest­ing on par­a­bolic skis, which are teth­ered to an able-bod­ied in­struc­tor-vol­un­teer, Deanna ex­plains that twelve of the skiers use sit-skis. And some of the stu­dents are not yet ready to ski at all, but she adds: “The point of the pro­gram is to have fun. To watch oth­ers ski, to wave at peo­ple, or maybe just wait in the lift-line to see how it sounds, what it feels like – even if we’re not get­ting on the lift.”

For Deanna, watch­ing her stu­dents en­joy a level of phys­i­cal free­dom that they have never known be­fore is ex­hil­a­rat­ing. “We had a lit­tle boy who was three years old and se­verely cog­ni­tively and phys­i­cally dis­abled,” she re­calls. “His life span wasn’t long, and his mom just wanted him to feel the kinds of things other kids can – speed, wind on his face.”

The pro­gram is also about ac­cep­tance. One of Deanna’s stu­dents was a girl with spina bi­fida, whose only ex­pe­ri­ence of phys­i­cal supremacy was on the ski hill, whizzing by her friends. Th­ese are the small joys that keep Deanna go­ing back to the pro­gram, year af­ter year.

“If we can help the stu­dents do some­thing reg­u­lar peo­ple do, if we can help them have some fun, then it’s all worth it. We’re in the smile busi­ness,” she con­cludes. And for Deanna, smiles are the big­gest re­ward of all.

Cather­ine Clark,

COM­MU­NITY VOICE

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