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VIDEO: Vancouver Island sit skier chasing Paralympic dreams

Kevin Monk trains on Mt. Washington with the Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports

On the morning ride up Mount Washington’s Hawk Chair after a luscious overnight snowfall, adaptive skier Kevin Monk shares his comeback story.

A couple years after a dirt bike accident left him paraplegic, the 24-year-old Campbell River resident finds himself charging new lines in a sit ski with the Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports (VISAS).

“I filled out the (VISAS) form on a whim,” said Monk. “I didn’t even really complete it. Sébastien called me the next day and we got it all figured out. I didn’t even have to pay; the first day was free. We went up the mountain and had tons of fun. The rest is history.”

The para-athlete now rides three to four times a week and wants to win gold at the Paralympics. His coach, longtime VISAS ski instructor Dilonnie Babcock says he’s “incredible.”

“I’m making him fast and teaching him gates. Next, we need to get into sanctioned races and start building points, and get into the Canadian Paralympic team. There are still a few steps to go. We are building skills right now,” said Babcock, from the Hawk Chair.

Monk jokes that he is way better as sit skier than he ever was on skis.

Learning how to sit ski was a bit counter-intuitive, explains Monk, but once he learned to trust the equipment, it all fell into place.

“Slowly the skills grow and the freedom grows and the fun is exponential,” he said.

Bob Wells, Courtenay mayor and VISAS volunteer instructor, remembers Monk’s first day going down the mountain on a sit ski.

“I saw the look on his face, the excitement, the want to go and get better. It really was an emotional day for me, in a positive way. What really hit me was when we brought him back, his dad was in tears because his dad saw that he had this potential to do things, he just needed the opportunity,” said Wells, adding that after a year of riding with Monk he had to buy himself new skis just to keep up.

VISAS president Sébastien Braconnier gushes with enthusiasm for adaptive sports.

“It can be life-altering,” he said while waving brand new Tessier outriggers, the piece of equipment adaptive skiers use to help with balance, stopping and turning, around the VISAS headquarters, which can be found below the main floor of Mount Washington’s lodge next to the security office.

VISAS is a volunteer-driven non-profit that survives on donations and grants. Originally based out of the old Forbidden Plateau ski lodge, VISAS was formed in the 1960s by legendary Comox Valley philanthropist Herb Bradley to offer ski lessons to people with physical disabilities or cognitive issues.

This season, 102 volunteer instructors are teaching 217 registered students the skills needed to excel at adaptive snowboarding, alpine skiing or nordic cross-country skiing. Students receive free instruction, free rentals, and a 50 per cent discount on lift tickets. Instructors get a free season pass.

“Anybody who is thinking about coming up and giving sit skiing a shot, I couldn’t recommend it enough. The people that run the program are extremely helpful. It’s been probably the most fun I had since my injury,” said Monk.