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Feature - Changing attitudes

The Adaptive Ski Program is only part of a move toward making Whistler a centre for disabled visitors and athletes



Freddy Barclay's dad has noticed that every time his 10-year-old goes skiing, a month later his speech improves slightly.

That may sound a little strange but any slight improvement in Freddy Barclay's speech is a blessing to his family.

That's because he was born mentally and physically handicapped – Freddy only has about five per cent speech. That's one of the most frustrating things about his disability, because he cannot communicate his needs.

His dad puts the improvement down to the sheer thrill and adrenaline rush of skiing.

For the fourth year in a row the Barclay's have travelled to Whistler from Edinburgh, Scotland to take Freddy skiing and to take advantage of Whistler's Adaptive Ski Program.

So while Freddy's mum, dad, older brother and sister head down the mountain on their skis, he hits the slopes beside his family with a ski instructor and a sit ski.

And he just flies.

In the last five years the Whistler Adaptive Ski Program has also taken off, growing more than 10 times in size and giving more people like Freddy the chance to have wings for a day. If current trends hold up it will continue to expand.

This year was also unique for Freddy as his older cousin and fellow sit skier Pippa Blake joined him on the mountain.

Blake, a former skier, now has multiple sclerosis and cannot use the left side of her body. That doesn't stop her from getting into a sit ski and skiing with an adaptive instructor.

And if the thrills and cheers heading down the Olympic Run were any indication, this weekend's ski day was a huge success for the entire family.

The adaptive program, which is still relatively young, is key to making Whistler the ultimate destination spot for disabled tourists, especially as adaptive sports continue to boom in North America.

"If they are the leaders in the ski industry... they should have the best disabled program," said Mary Clark, a recreational therapist with the spinal cord program at GF Strong Rehab Centre in Vancouver.

Roughly 120 new spinal cord patients go through the rehab centre every year. Most are young. Most are men. And most are risk-takers.

Clark has been a recreational therapist at GF Strong for 10 years. She said the social ramifications of life after a spinal cord injury can sometimes be more disabling than the injury itself. Frequently people who wind up in a wheelchair lose friends and have to deal with a changed role within the family unit.