Written by: Jeremy Derksen
EDMONTON, AB – Boots click, people chatter as the enthusiasm grows for an evening of skiing at Edmonton Ski Club.
Ticket lines, food lines and rental lines snake around the chalet. There’s a bustle of noise and movement everywhere.
In the midst of the down-jacket filled room, a caped superhero drifts from family to family. But more about her later.
In another corner is Marcus, a teenage boy with autism. For a kid like him, this room could be sensory overload. But it’s not.
He’s happy and excited to ski and that’s the reason I’m here.
“When Marcus was in Grade 4, his school went on a ski trip and he did not do well. So, I decided it was time to stick him in lessons,” says his mom, Grace.
“The big smile on his face means everything.”That was when they put Marcus in the Qi program. The Qi Adventure Club is the idea of Jon and Paula Rivero – the caped hero mentioned before.
Jon, an occupational therapist, started in private practice in 2007. The business grew quickly, providing therapy and support services to families and children with special needs in rural Alberta communities.
“We are helping families realize that a diagnosis is just a diagnosis, it doesn’t have to define us,” Jon says.
Jon, a taekwondo master, began offering taekwondo classes for the kids he was treating. He quickly saw an opportunity to branch out and offer other special opportunities.
That’s how the Adventure Club began.
In winter 2014, John brought his idea to the Edmonton Ski Club, which hadn’t done anything like this before, but they were game.
With the support of Edmonton’s Winter City initiative, the Qi ski program at ESC is now into its fourth season.
There are close to dozens of kids and families of all abilities, plus volunteers and instructors, out on the slopes together.
It’s paying off for everyone.
Jon say that anyone of any ability can join and quickly feel they are part of a community, which helps the kids grow into their own on the slopes.
The transformation, in some cases, is quite remarkable.
One mom, Christine says her son Mark has learn to deal better with anxiety and has gained a lot of confidence.
“I wish more programs were available. It’s amazing what they can do,”
Christine tells Paula Rivero with tears in her eyes. “Thank you,” she says, and the two hug.
For another mom, Grace, the payoff came when her son Marcus went on his next school ski trip. After the lessons with the Qi club, he was able to ski with his classmates and enjoy himself.
“He loves it, absolutely loves it. We drive up the road to the ski club and he gets a big smile on his face,” says Grace.
“The big smile on his face means everything.”