Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Story of Josh Vander Vies - Canadian Paralympian

Hi everyone,

I have another treasure to share with all of you today, a story from an inspirational individual who has carried his disability with his head held high and has inspired family, friends, students and others to believe and suprise themselves!

Josh Vander Vies represented Canada at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece in the sport of Boccia. Josh was born without limbs, but has not let this stop him from creating an amazing life, overcoming challenges and having an amazing attitude. Here is his story.

Josh Vander Vies

The stadium in Athens was at its capacity – 85 000. As I lined up with my fellow Canadian athletes, I could hear the roar of the crowd. It was muffled. We were outside the arena and the air was not still. It shook.
When I crossed the threshold, saw the mass of people celebrating, and heard the deafening cheer of voices pounding elite athletes from around the world, I smiled. I had made it. I represented Canada at the 2004 Paralympic Summer Games in Athens, Greece and finished amongst the top Boccia players on the planet.
Some years earlier, my mom Sandy, came out of the caesarean delivery of her first-born very groggy, as her husband Gary waited eagerly in another room. My mom had had an uneventful pregnancy and had to deliver me caesarean style, because I was breech. As she shook off the drugs, she asked the nurse: “Is it a boy?” The nurse replied that it was, with a small smile. Sandy then asked: “Does he have any hair?” The nurse didn’t know – she was preoccupied with other, seemingly disastrous features.
The doctors explained to my parents that I had been born missing all of my limbs and gave a prediction of my future so bleak that my parents blurted out: “Is he going to die?!” The doctors, a little surprised, laughed and said no that I was perfectly healthy, just without most of my arms and legs. My parents wanted to see me.

When I was brought out to them for the first time, they both took turns kissing me all over and telling me that they loved me. They spent the rest of my life, so far, showing me.

They encouraged me to set hard goals and do what it takes to achieve them. Instead of putting me into a segregated school for children with disabilities, like the experts advised, my parents – unilingual English speakers – enrolled me in a local French immersion school so that I would have a bit more of a challenge!
As I grew, I became interested in physical activity. I joined a swim team for athletes with disabilities and soon competed in Swimming, Shot Put, Discus and Javelin. Then I discovered Boccia – the international Paralympic indoor version of the Italian past time – and was hooked on the intense skill, precision, strategy and competition of pushing myself to get better and better.

Not having hands or full legs presents many tough obstacles. And, like any obstacles that seem insurmountable, they can be shattered. Some I overcame naturally: I learned to write, play and draw by watching my friends. Others I had help with before I could help myself: my dad built me parallel bars and my mom encouraged me to use them to practice walking upright. Other obstacles, I stared at head on and came up with solutions: learning to dress myself when I was 13, becoming an early riser in my mid twenties, and the more recent realisation that what others think about me, doesn’t matter.
I love not having arms and legs, and I love myself (maybe too much – ask anyone who knows me!). I love the things I can do. And, I love the things I can’t do, yet.
You should love yourself too. No matter what circumstances you find yourself in, you have the ability to surprise yourself.

Sometimes I wonder whether or not I have an effect when I visit schools, or speak to audiences. My partner, Dalia, and I were watching a show at the Vancouver Centre for the Performing Arts, and at intermission a couple I didn’t recognise, approached us. One of them was a teacher at a local school I had presented at; she told me that the students were organising a sports day – several months after I had presented – and they insisted that Boccia be included in the program. An outdoor version was included, and was a great success bringing students of all abilities and backgrounds together in friendly competition.

Sometimes I surprise myself.

At a recent corporate presentation, the nicest lady approached me afterwards in tears and told me that my message had affected her in a very personal way. Neither of us could find the words to express ourselves further, so we hugged and smiled and cried.

Sometimes I really surprise myself.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Don’t Rush To Christmas

I am very happy to be able to offer our lovely readers a blog post from Rich Fabend, who's words have been very much missed over this time. As always, Rich is offering some of the most amazing stories and has shared them with our avid readers. I really enjoyed his piece below, it seems perfect for the time of the year and is really quite an amazing read! Please enjoy!


Rich Fabend

Before sending this blog to DisCo I went to Wikipedia and looked up holidays in Australia. I was quite surprised to find out there was no holiday similar to Thanksgiving which is celebrated in the United States as well as Canada. In the States Thanksgiving is celebrated on the third Thursday in November while in Canada it's celebrated on October 12. This could just be a lack of knowledge on my part and I think what I've written here can be appreciated by anyone without it having to be a special day.

Before Halloween my wife informed me that stores were already beginning to display Christmas items. We have yet to celebrate Thanksgiving and the majority of the advertisements on television are related to Christmas. I believe retailers are rushing us to Christmas to increase their chances to make a profit. I feel very strongly that the Thanksgiving holiday gives us an opportunity to realise how fortunate we really are. I tell people from the minute I had struck the bottom underwater I am one of the luckiest people in the world.

Travis Roy has said "There are times in our lives when we choose our challenges and other times when challenges simply choose us. It is what we do in the face of those challenges that defines who we are, and more importantly, who we can and will become." Years ago a psychiatrist asked me to identify as many positive things, as I could, that resulted from my accident. After a great deal of thought the only thing I could come up with was that I had met some wonderful people. As I think about the question today I realised that there are many things that I really do have to be thankful for. I have been given a second chance at life. (I had no pulse when I was brought on the beach). Marge, my wife of 46 years, and family have stood by me every step of the way. Everyday Marge goes out of her way to help me enjoy quality of life. My nurses are always willing to go the extra mile. I have many friends who give their time to help me do the activities I love. I have surprisingly good health. I have learned more about human nature and the power that exists within the human mind. I have wonderful memories that I am able to revisit. I have been able to continue being an educator and, I hope, help others to deal with the challenges they face. The kindness that is in others has become very evident to me. When we watch the news we often are led to believe that there is much evil in society in general but I know that is not true. Finally, even though I am in a chair I have much freedom and opportunity. So, don’t allow yourself to be rushed to Christmas without stopping to realise what you have to be thankful for.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I'm attending the Sydney Bloggers Festival 2010 - come and say hi!

Inspirational man of vision!

I have recently come across an article in Links Magazine written by Carla Caruso, which provides a profile of a very inspirational man, Duncan Meerding.

Duncan is legally blind but has not let that hold him back from reaching big and wonderful things! Duncan has become a crafstma, using his touch and hearing to create amazing pieces of furniture. His pieces are inspired by curved lines and surfaces that are based on the wonderful shapes and appearances of nature! The Syney Morning Herald wrote in an article on Duncan, that "The 23-year-old describes his design as a form of artistic expression to explain how he sees the world now: minimalist objects with flowing lines".

Since beginning to lose his vision at the age of 18 due to the degenerative eye condition, Leber's hereditary optic, Duncan has moved beyond the challenges of what were the simplest things in life, to be able to inspire others through amazing and unique furniture designs.

I would highly suggest that you check out the article on him from either Links Magazine of the Sydney Morning Herald, I think that this wonderful story should really tell people that anything is possible if you put your mind to it!

Have a beautiful day,