Chariots of FIRE

It’s been a long time coming and despite a number of mid-winter spring-esque days to really throw you off, spring is officially in the air. March is a month of adventures, warm sunny days, goggle tans and afternoons on decks. Idyllic skiing to say the least and this month’s Sporting Heroes adventurists are equally excited by the change in season and what lies in store.

Fernie Inspire the Race to Empower (F.I.R.E.) was born in late January. An Adaptive Snow Program right here in Fernie, to accommodate varying disabilities from physical, mental and behavioural for individuals in our area. Grace Brulotte, a young enigmatic resident of Fernie, was first introduced to what she describes as “this amazing sport” in Kimberley and it immediately changed her life. Her goal subsequently became to bring this to Fernie, and as a young lady who doesn’t let hurdles stand in her way, she did just that.

With the support of Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR), trained CADS volunteers, as well as a number of other Fernie locals, a non-profit and “life changing” society has been created to bring this dream to reality. “When I started I was concerned with just getting the program off the ground, but am just amazed at how the community rallied and gave us as much support as we needed to pull this program together,” says Grace.

Grace knows about hurdles and disabilities, but she also believes in having “no excuses and no limits,” experiencing freedom first-hand, seeing it as a release and a chance to do what some would say is unattainable. “Our program makes the impossible, possible, as well as changing lives. Because of this program we are seeing freedom, joy and inspiration just radiate from every disabled individual. We are taking the ‘dis’ off disability every time we ski. We are free to ski!”

It’s an outstanding program, which as ever is as of a result of many Fernie volunteers. Dagny Sneddon, a Fernie resident is one volunteer who stepped up to the plate with five years experience with Whistler’s Adaptive Sports Program.

“I watched Whistler grow from 30 volunteers and 100 lessons in my first season in 2005, to 100 volunteers and 2,000 lessons by 2010 at the time of the Paralympic games. Being a part of adaptive sport has greatly changed my perspective on ability and has taught me to appreciate the necessity of participation and inclusion. It is fun finding a way to help a person achieve the best way to slide down the hill, whether it be in a sit-ski, stand-up skiing with modifications or snowboarding.”

Off-snow assistance is also necessary to keeping the fire alight. Jennifer Gross is their Treasurer, helped organize the CADS Level 1 Course and communicates with RCR to ensure smooth running. As a first-timer, she admits she has learned so much.

“It has been such a rewarding experience, especially when I see and hear the joy in our students and their families. I see big things for our program – training more instructors and helping them go up through the levels in the CADS program. We will have our own space on the hill, offering lessons seven days per week at affordable prices.”

And there are many others behind the scenes. “Grace is the driving force behind F.I.R.E., with the help of her mom Janice. Andy Cohen from FAR, Nelda and David Carruthers are also Directors. Dave and Anita Brunker have jumped in, helping out in so many ways. Susan Hughes, the course conductor and Disabled Skiing Association of BC (DSABC) have helped us get on our feet and have made a five-year commitment to supporting us through our start up.”

F.I.R.E. has now been open four Sundays and is doing amazingly well, with five regular local students to date. Currently three sit-skis have been purchased with funds Grace raised last year, whilst training has been covered by funds already raised by F.I.R.E. and the support of FAR, but more equipment and training is required to meet the varying needs of the participants. If you’d like to get involved, there is certainly a place within the growing F.I.R.E. family. Email bethefire@hotmail.ca and check out www.fernieadaptiveski.ca for more information on Grace and her journey. A journey which I’m pretty sure has many adventures yet to come…