Over on my personal Facebook page, I’ve hinted at an adventure I had a few weeks ago. An adventure that might have seemed rather normal, even boring to the average person. Average doesn’t begin to describe the people I shared it with. They were remarkable of experience, attitude and humour, creating a weekend that pushed our boundaries, opened our eyes, created some new friendships, and won’t be something I soon forget.
JJ, Rookie, Coco, Pops, Gilligan, Hollywood turned Zigzag and yours truly Chewie (explain that later) were those on wheels. We were supported by Mama Bear, Mama Mia, InZane, Little Buddy, Fanny, and Yogi turned Boo Boo the staff from Lyndhurst who gave up their weekend to help us on this trip. These 13 people, plus all the staff up at the CNIB Cottages on Lake Joseph mixed together for what was technically a weekend of “recreational therapy”. It was that. It was also much more, as a bunch of adults with various SCI’s, across ages ranging from 21 to 60 got to know each other on the gorgeous shores of Lake Joseph, up in the Muskoka region of Ontario. All that and nary a drop of alcohol to be found! (not allowed by CNIB and really…we all had meds…). Where to begin? How about early (for me) on a Friday morning?
Arrive at 7:30am, the buses leave at 8am to head up north. When I read that in the information pamphlet, I admit my heart skipped. Come on, EVERYONE knows I didn’t do mornings
well before the chair…now? Hah! At least Shannon was driving me out and I didn’t even fall asleep on her. I saved that for the bus ride up after some very short introductions to the group, organizing who was on which bus, and saving the more in-depth meet and greet’s for when we were out of the city. I knew I was on a bus with two gentleman who eventually became known as Rookie and Pops. Have to admit, I wasn’t really socializing much on that trip up. I’ve done the drive to Muskoka many times, so on that bus which had the suspension of a stage-coach on wooden wheels, I dozed and napped as best I could. A few hours and one side trip to a rest stop later, and there we made it.
The CNIB facility isn’t really a cottage per se, but if you’ve ever toured Lake Joseph, you know full well that most of the residences up there barely qualify as cottages. It’s a sprawling and gorgeous facility with spartan but comfortable rooms with two single beds in each, and a shared bathroom with roll in showers. It is designed with accessibility for those with visual impairments in mind, which means it works perfectly on wheels. Lots of easy to use paths every where, easy to open doors, it was the best you could imagine for a cottage weekend. Reminded me a lot of Camp Oochigeas, which I visited several times years ago, doing some work for them. The attitudes of the staff was also quite similar. A little TOO perky for that first morning…but I suspect that was more me grumbling at 11am than anything to do with them. A quick lunch with introductions to how the meals worked and then off to get our first chance to really meet each other.
Mama Bear had a beach ball, with questions written with a Sharpie all over it, a game to let us introduce ourselves and learn a bit about each other. Mine ended up being a question asking about my favourite Halloween costume. The first thing that came to mind, was a kindergarten costume my mom had made for me as Chewbacca. She put a lot of work into…and thus my camp nickname was born. Chewie. Yep, no Lorelord or GeekonWheels (seriously I wasn’t going to try to explain Lorelord to them). Soon…we all had our camp names and started learning a bit more about these people who would become new friends. From there we got unpacked and met up for a few activities where we still got our chances to learn more about each other. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to have a real “kumbaya” moment around a campfire for a night of shared stories as all of Muskoka was under a camp fire ban. That could have sucked some wind out of our sales, but we made up for it in the evenings.
It also led to more personal conversations, sometimes in small groups, sometimes one on one, where we learned what all had brought us together on our various wheels (all Ti-Lite’s for the manual chairs actually). Sometimes it was in front of targets as a bunch of wheeled archers aimed arrows that went far astray more often than not.Sometimes it was waiting while someone got to sail, or on an evening pontoon boat ride, or just sitting by the beach, the sound of waves a gentle encouragement for conversation. It happened while helping each other with fishing rods held in place, as para’s helped tetra’s cast their lines and reel in a catch (as I thank my Uncle George once more for teaching me enough that I could help in every way).
We got to canoe (which trust me was an adventure getting us in), swim, sail, play some incredibly goofy and fun games (note, a so-called family friendly version of Cards Against Humanity…really isn’t family safe in the wrong hands), help cook dinners under the gaze of the camp chef and enjoy some time where being in a chair didn’t matter. I can’t give enough credit to the staff for how they made everything work, from InZane and Fanny muscling us up and out of chairs into bikes, canoes and boats and back again, to the unique bodged together paddle wheels for the tetras to use, they were able to make just about everything work. Including indulging me in tipping my canoe to let me swim (with guidance!). Seriously, Shannon would have shaken her head saying, “just roll the damn canoe!”
Honestly, the best part to me was sharing our stories and seeing how everyone handled their unique situations and gaining some new
ideas on how to expand my life in the chair. It was also great getting to know some of the staff outside of Lyndhurst itself, who again went above and beyond the call of duty. While I was the only person who had never been an inpatient there, it turned out that I was actually the longest in the chair, beating JJ by just a few weeks from when his accident occurred. The shortest time in a chair happened to be Gilligan who was still an inpatient and doing remarkably well. I don’t have the right to share all their stories, but each of them was unique and hit home on the idea that you never know when something can happen that will leave life as you know it changed forever. Despite that change, you have to never give up, as there are adventures to be had no matter where life takes you.
We got back on the Monday afternoon, everyone sun baked (but not burned) exhausted but glad for the experience and we’re getting together at the end of this week (July 22) to catch up with our new friends, check out the video that BooBoo somehow had to create from hours of footage and have some laughs at each other’s takes on that weekend. I look forward to seeing them all and getting more contact with them that we were all too exhausted to share. Rec Therapy…perhaps one of the most important parts of getting back into your life. Who knew?