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.”
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.