Volunteers from MAB-Mackay turn out on rainy day for clients’ “monumental triumph”
One day in September, Carlyle Smith accomplished something he never dreamed possible: He completed a two-kilometre race. Clutching his white cane as he advanced along the course, the 79-year-old circled the track and crossed the finish line with a broad smile on his face.
“I was so happy I made it,” says Mr. Smith, who is legally blind. “I felt a sense of accomplishment.”
Mr. Smith couldn’t see his supporters along the route, but he could hear them. Applause and shouts from the crowd rang in his ears. And as he approached the finish line, he heard a familiar voice calling his name and cheering—it was Eric Parent, the kinesiologist from Mr. Smith’s day centre at the Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay Rehabilitation Centre.
Mr. Parent was the inspiration and driving force behind the idea to involve Mr. Smith and other seniors in an organized race. Last April, he put the simple question to his clients at the MAB-Mackay site’s Day Centre, who are 65 and older and all have visual impairments.
How would they like to take part in a foot race?
Hands shot up. And over the following months, the seniors trained on the track of Loyola High School, next door to MAB-Mackay site on Sherbrooke Street West. On rainy days, they walked through the MAB-Mackay corridors. They overcame their fears and grew more confident with each step.
“I wanted to give them the chance to show what they were capable of,” Mr. Parent explains. “Everyone told me it was the first time they’d done anything like it.”
The biggest challenge was to give them the confidence in themselves that they could do it.”Eric Parent
On the day of the race, which was organized by BougeBouge Verdun Marathon, it was pouring rain. Yet 15 volunteers turned out to support the participants, including 12 staff members from Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay who gave their time on a Sunday.
Martin Bergevin, Program Manager for Rehabilitation, Sensorial Impairment 25+, was one of those volunteers; he accompanied Mr. Smith around the course, guiding him by the elbow. Crossing the finish line with Mr. Smith was a moment he’ll never forget, he says. “I shared his emotions and his pride in his accomplishment. I get goosebumps thinking about it.”
Prior to the event, Mr. Bergevin admits he was concerned about the safety of the vulnerable clients, who live with varying degrees of visual disability. “But my concerns proved completely wrong,” he says. “The clients were capable of doing it. They gave themselves a goal and they succeeded in reaching it—with flying colours.”
He credits Mr. Parent, who believed in his clients and gave them the confidence to succeed.
In addition, the sight of visually impaired participants along the course, some with white canes, conveyed a powerful message to spectators in the crowd: “It was an opportunity to show inclusion and to sensitize people,” Mr. Bergevin says.
Nineteen clients from the MAB-Mackay Day Centre—the oldest was 95—participated in the race, completing distances from one to 10 kilometres; each person was accompanied by a volunteer guide. Mr. Parent says the event’s success wouldn’t have been possible without the determination of CIUSSS staff.
“Despite the hard day we faced, with cold weather and relentless rain, your dedication shone through,” he wrote in an email to them afterwards. “Many of you went above and beyond to ensure our members had a safe and enjoyable experience. Some of our members didn’t even bring a rain jacket and, in some cases, came only with a t-shirt, making your support even more critical.”
“Though it may have been a simple walk in the park for us, for them, it was a monumental triumph—a journey filled with courage and resilience!”Eric Parent
No sooner had participants like Mr. Smith completed the challenge than they asked if they could do it again next year. “At first I was reluctant to take part, but with Eric’s encouragement, I knew I could make it,” Mr. Smith says, smiling as he recalls the sound of Mr. Parent’s voice as he neared the finish line.
“I heard, ‘Let’s go, let’s go, good job, you’re at the end!” Mr. Smith says. “It was Eric. He made me feel like all my work was worthwhile. I wouldn’t have done it without him.”
* Support for participants in the BougeBouge Marathon came from the Habilitas Foundation’s Alexandre Bilodeau Fund for Adapted Sports at Lethbridge-Layton-Mackay.