There’s one more member of the Crazy Canucks. Say hello to Grayson, three years old, and careening down the ski hill at breakneck speed.
Ok, he’s coming down the hill in a safe and controlled manner, piloted by his caregiver Kelsey Lefebvre, but the giggles and chuckles tell everyone he whizzes past that in his mind, he’s the next Steve Podborski or Jennifer Heil.
But just like Maverick needs his fighter jet, Grayson’s need for speed comes from a technological marvel into which he gets strapped for the runs up and down the slopes of Troll Ski Resort. But while Maverick’s F-18 Super Hornet clocks in at about $65-million, Grayson flies for free. His sit-ski apparatus was hand-built by Lefebvre’s mechanically skilled dad, Jeff, and uncle Mike.
“She hangs out with him, takes him to do different things,” said Grayson’s grandma Raielle Perry. She, his grandpa Gary and mother Adrienne all live together looking after Grayson, who was born with an ultra-rare condition called MCT8. There are only three known cases in B.C. It means he requires a daily regimen of medication, tube-feeding and cannot communicate or move without assistance.
Lefebvre is an educational assistant with School District 28, most of the time, but she is Grayson’s care worker at other times.
“She came into our lives in the summer and she and Grayson became really good friends,” Perry said. “She’ll spend time with Grayson some evenings, during the school year, and in the off-times she’ll take him sometimes for the whole day, have him overnight, she’s taken him to the ski hill before just to watch and be around the other skiers. She’s pretty great – become more like family. She texted me awhile back and said ‘can I take Grayson skiing?’ and I didn’t even hesitate, ‘yes, sure!’ but then I wondered ‘how?’ and she’s like ‘me and my dad and uncle are going to build something.’ So they looked at his wheelchair, because he fully relies on a wheelchair. He can’t sit or stand or walk. They figured out how to build it for his wheelchair seat. It’s a custom seat that detatches. They made it so it hooks right onto the sit-ski. So he was able to go skiing.”
Sit-ski contraptions are not new. There’s a whole branch of skiing that utilizes them. But Grayson has particular physical requirements, and there also had to be a failsafe way for a guide to control the machine from behind. It was a very Grayson-taylored project.
“We had never done anything like it. It was just trial and error, somehow it managed to work, and it was safe,” said Lefebvre.
The fabrication process was a challenge, but the basic principles were easy for the family. They are active auto racers, so this was a comparitive breeze. They discovered that a snowboard was the most practical mode on which to attach the frame and chair, to allow the pilot the freedom to have skis on each side and still maneouver. They also let management at Troll Mountain look it over and ensure it would be safe on the slopes with all the other people around.
After that, Lefebvre’s skills took over. She is one of the city’s Special Olympics coaches for alpine skiing, and the family has a cabin on the mountain.
“My grandma taught me to ski starting when I was two,” she said. She is also an award-winning auto racer, former downhill ski racer, is adept with bows and rifles, and has a passion for helping kids as much as the great outdoors.
“For a lot of kids, and adults, people with mobility issues, they get left out of a lot of activities they probably would enjoy, and I figured Grayson would really like being out on the ski hill. So we just tried to figure out a way to do that safely, and it worked really well,” Lefebvre said.
“A big thing for his family, and Raielle says this all the time, that he has a disability but they don’t believe that should hold him back from all these crazy things they are hoping he can experience. And I know how kids with special needs oftentimes don’t get included in certain things. They should get a chance to try it. You just have to give them all the opportunities you can.”
Perry discovered Grayson’s adventerous side when she decided to upscale their usual walks. She took him in the wheelchair for a swoopy jog on the undulating course of the pump-track. He loved it, so the experiments expanded. There was no doubt about it, Grayson enjoys a good burst of speed and freewheeling movement.
“We try,” Perry said. “We want to make sure he gets to try as many things as we can, but never in a million years did I think skiing would be one of them. But Kelsey did. She was like ‘oh, yeah, it’s happening.’”
Grayson makes occasional visits to BC Children’s Hospital, and has close contact with the Quesnel Child Development Centre. Now, Troll Ski Resort is a big – geographically – facility for his health and wellness, too, thanks to some kind innovation from his network of love.