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Twizzles, death spirals, and throw triple-loops – all in the name of autism.

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a post by Suzanne Lanthier, the Executive Director of Autism Speaks Canada. 

In my role as Executive Director of Autism Speaks Canada, I get to meet a lot of inspiring people. It is the best part of the job.

From the families who walk, cycle and run with us from coast to coast in Canada to help raise funds to support our mission, to the service providers and teachers and aides and support workers who are so dedicated to what they do with our kids. From the rock-star researchers who work so hard to find the missing pieces of the puzzle to the incredible corporate partners who have stepped up big tim -  check that – HUGE TIME for the autism community here in Canada – Toys”R”Us & Babies”R”Us, KRG Children’s Charitable Foundation, Spin Master Ltd., Mega Brands, Home Restaurants, Scotiabank, Tennis Canada, Peoples and Mappins Jewellers – to name just a few.

Let me tell you about two incredible people who have been my inspiration over the past 3 weeks.

Brad May and Anabelle Langlois.

Brad (“Mayday”) May is a Stanley Cup Winning hockey player – a 19-year veteran of the NHL where he was known as an ‘enforcer’ – you know, one of the tough guys who steps in to, well, enforce. Brad was drafted by Buffalo in 1st round, went 14th overall in his draft year and played for a number of teams in the NHL including the Anaheim Ducks and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Anabelle – along with her pairs skating partner – Cody Hay, won Canadian pairs title in 2008 and placed 9th in Vancouver Olympics and over her wonderful competitive career has finished in top 10 at Worlds six times.

Anabelle is petite, tiny – you might say the complete opposite to Brad the tough guy. Well, looks are deceiving. Despite being maybe 4 foot nothing and maybe 70 pounds soaking wet (a bit of editorial license here) Anabelle is as fierce and as tough and as passionate as hulking hockey star. Truth be told, Brad is really a big teddy bear (but you didn’t hear that from me!).

In Canada, it could be said that we are a bit hockey-crazy. So, our version of the popular US-based show “Dancing with the Stars” is “Battle of the Blades,” where a hockey player is teamed with a figure skater to develop and perform routines with lifts, spins, throw and jumps and win money for their charities. (Not to diminish what Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice and Donny Osmond have accomplished on DWTS but think of their training and then picture them doing the same thing but on skates.)

Not surprisingly, “Battle” draws over 3 million viewers each week from across Canada. Brad and Anabelle have selected Autism Speaks as their charity, guaranteeing us to win at least $25,000 for just stepping on the ice.

But they are not ones to just step on the ice. They are IN IT TO WIN IT. There is a $100,000 at stake for the winning couple.

So.. let’s do the math. $25K guaranteed, $100K possible, 3 million Canadians each week seeing the blue puzzle piece and hearing the word Autism.

To get there, they are working so, so, so hard. I have been lucky enough to see them at practice a few times. Let me tell you, I’m glad it’s them out there and not me.

It is hard. There are falls, bruises, bumps, blood.

But with Brad and Anabelle, there are also lots of laughs and hugs and cheering each other on.

There is a combined twinkle in their eyes that should melt the ice they skate on, and a fierce competitive spirit that will, with the support of the autism community, put them on the winning podium on November 14.

The first skate is this Sunday, September 25 with a 7 hour voting window from 7 PM to 2 AM EST – a Toll-Free phone in vote can be cast as many times as one person can get through by calling 1-877-844-8157. Online, during the 7 hour window, you can also vote by clicking at www.cbc.ca/battle/vote.html

every 5 minutes through a special Facebook application.

Voting is restricted to Canadians by phone and on Facebook but we do know that many of our friends in the US and around the world have friends, families, contacts in Canada, so please reach out to them – ask them to vote! More information can be found at www.autismspeaks.ca

In Their Own Words – When Going Downhill is a Good Thing…

January 15, 2011 7 comments

This “In Their Own Words” is by Suzanne Lanthier, the Executive Director for Autism Speaks Canada.

When you live in Canada, there are a few things that are a ‘safe bet’. First, any news about hockey will make the first page of our national newspaper (case in point last June when the front page story of the Globe and Mail showcased the winners of the Stanley Cup – which incidentally was side by side with the latest findings in autism genetics research .. the closest Dr. Steven Scherer will ever get to a Stanley Cup!!).

Second safe bet – there will be snow.

This past weekend, Toronto got its first real winter snowfall. My 11-year old son, Scotty, loves the snow. He is mesmerized by the sight of flakes reflecting in the streetlights and can sit and watch this wonder of nature for hours. I keep telling him that if he was out there shoveling it with me, he wouldn’t think it was so fantastic but I’ll let him have his fun… for now.

Scotty’s autism coupled with his clubfoot makes skating really difficult and painful. His grasp of the rules surrounding team sports is limited at best, so hockey is not an activity that I have pushed too hard. But he’s a Canadian and with that comes the need to find an outdoor winter activity that he can embrace. Tobogganing or sledding was something up until a few years ago Scotty quite enjoyed. Until, that is, we had “crash day” – which really just amounted to a minor collision with another younger boy on our local sledding hill. But with “crash day,” Scotty’s love of tobogganing all came to a crashing halt.

From that moment on, anytime tobogganing was mentioned it was met with significant anxiety and “no sled, no sled, no sled, no crash, no crash, no crash” – red face, panic look, heart racing – you get the picture. He still really liked going to the hill and watching the other kids go down the hill and he especially enjoyed pushing his mother down on the sled (oh my aching you-know-what!!), but to get him to go down was a lost cause. Every once in a while, he’d sit on the “boat” – his word for the sled – but that was about all I could get out of him. The slightest move forward was met with him springing off the sled faster than a slapshot coming off of Crosby’s stick.

Until, that is, this past Sunday. We gave it another shot. It was late – about 5 PM – so only a few die-hards left on the hill. I put the “boat” at the top of the smallest incline and waited. It was a spectacular evening – clear, calm, not too cold. The moon (another of Scotty’s favourite things to gaze at in the sky) was out and a beautiful crescent shape. He climbed in and sat down. He saw some kids at the bottom of the hill and promptly rolled out with the same “no crash, no sled” that I’ve heard before. “Oh well, guess its not going to happen” I thought. So I sat and waited for him to push me down as per our usual routine.

Instead, after a few minutes, he got in the “boat” and said “just mom and Scotty” and down we went. It’s hard to know how to react sometimes. Do I cheer and make a big deal about it or just act ‘natural?’ I went with playing it cool. “OK,” I said, “let’s do it again.” And we did – again and again and again.

Scotty is an observer, and he could see that the other kids were going down on their own. So just when I was about to call it a night, he looked up at me from the “boat” and said “just Scotty.” Really?? I made him repeat it a few times until the tone of his voice pretty much said “Listen lady, I’m ready to go down on my own .. don’t make me think about it anymore or I won’t.”

So, down he went – just Scotty – on his own. I admit that I didn’t play it cool after that. I cheered like he scored the overtime goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He may as well have.

After a few more runs with “just Scotty” it was really getting dark and we were the only ones left on the hill. We both could have stayed all night but I had to be the ‘mom’ and call it a night.

We went back on Monday night. I got to go down once with him – just once. I may have to buy my own “boat.”

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

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