Andy Social of Edmonton can use his legs, but this week, he was learning to use a sit ski on Mount Washington.
Social, who sustained a serious back injury while serving in Afghanistan in 2006, is one of 14 Canadian Forces members from across the country and three members of the Australian Defence Force participating in the fourth annual Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports (VISAS) Veteran’s Learn to Ski Festival this week.
Hosted by VISAS, Mount Washington Alpine Resort and Soldier On, the festival introduces disabled veterans to adaptive skiing and snowboarding.
Social has a spinal injury and can still use his legs, but he has used this opportunity to try sit skiing.
“Some of my best friends are paraplegics and use sit skis, and I wanted to experience what they experience,” he said. “Sitting in a sit ski gives you a whole new perspective. It takes a whole lot of upper body strength.”
For Social, who plays sit volleyball back home, the camaraderie among festival participants is important.
“It’s been absolutely eye-opening,” he said of the festival. “It’s awesome. The camaraderie between all of us Canadians, all of us injured, plus the Australians has been absolutely awesome. In three or four days, we’ve gone from complete strangers from different parts of the world to a family.”
Social has been impressed by the VISAS volunteers.
“They’ve been absolutely fantastic,” he said. “I think what they’re doing, not just with us, I think the word should get out.”
For Greg Lagacé, manager of Soldier On, an event like the Veteran’s Learn to Ski Festival is important to show the ill and injured what they can do.
“Our mission is about improving the quality of life of the ill and injured and also their families,” he said. “We use opportunities like this to help open up doors and expose them to the abilities they have inside them. We hope when they go home, they will be inspired to do physical activity.”
Involving families is very important to Soldier On and this year, the program brought eight family members to the festival.
“That’s a huge thing to make things more comfortable,” said Social, who was able to bring his brother Roger. “These are the people who have been there right from the start. They’re there from Day One for support, and they support you all the way through.”
This is the first time the Australians have participated in the Veteran’s Learn to Ski Festival.
“We’re really enjoying the opportunity,” said Lt.-Col. Jamie Patten-Richens, the Australian Military Attaché. “This is a really exciting opportunity to look at the way it’s done in Canada. Our militaries are quite similar in size and organization, but what we’re finding is the way we do things or the way Canada does things is slightly different, and it’s always good to learn from each other.”
Patten-Richens expects that the Australian Defence Force Paralympic Sports Program — the Australian equivalent to Soldier On — will continue to work with Soldier On.
“We see this as the start of a partnership with Soldier On because, like Soldier On, we don’t just focus on skiing or winter sports but on a full range of adaptive sports for our members,” he said.