At 11:00AM Pacific Time I made my final strides out on the rainy streets of Vancouver, BC, as I approached the finish line on 30th Ave. E in front of Riley Park Community Centre. Sopping wet, but, full of excitement, I was trailed by my teammates, Cameron, Jason, and PJ along with two Police escorts on motorcycles and a pumper truck from the Vancouver Fire Department. My heart felt like it was pounding out of my chest as I skated through the row of Lower Mainland Legion Colour Guard’s holding Canadian flags, and into my family’s arms.
The morning of Friday, October 16, 2009 was my game 7 in the final round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and I won it all!
With family, friends, and media in attendance, I’m certain that the intense adrenaline rush that I experienced as I broke through the finish line could be felt by everyone there. It was a moment of extreme jubilation. A feeling of utter relief, and genuine satisfaction. After 5,000KM, 2,664-hours, and 111-days out on the road I hollered out with joy - “IT IS OVER!!!”
The arrival celebration at Riley Park Community Centre was the perfect way to sum up such an unbelievable adventure. My parents, Massimo and Sandy, and my brother Lucas sat in the front row as dignitaries took to the podium to share their feelings on my Quest after the singing of “O Canada” by The Tempos Choir, a blind choir from Vancouver. We heard from the Acting Deputy Mayor of the City of Vancouver, Ellen Woodsworth, The Commissioner and Vice-Chair of the Vancouver Parks Board, Loretta Woodcock, and The President of the Canadian Blind Sports Association, Gary Steeves whose kind words really touched me and were much appreciated. I then got a chance to thank everyone in attendance and share a bit of my Quest to the West and what it meant for me to be able to share such a special moment in my life with so many people who I love and care about.
Amidst the summation of the most remarkable, life changing, and challenging endeavor of my entire life, I had finally reached the point where I was satisfied with what I had achieved. I look back now at the amazing people I met along the way and the magnificent country that I have crossed, and now know that it is no longer about what I had set out to do, it is about what I have done.
The celebration continued with a fantastic lunch provided by our good friends at Boston Pizza. I would like to give a special thank you to Darren Redford at the Boston Pizza Granville Highway for extending his fantastic support and providing the food for the afternoon. It was great to have BP’s there with us all the way past the finish line.
Following lunch, I got a great opportunity to play in an exhibition game along with the Vancouver Eclipse, Vancouver’s blind hockey team, at the Riley Park Arena. Getting the chance to showcase the game of blind hockey for those in attendance was really the perfect ending to a campaign such as mine. What an awesome feeling to step back on the ice in my Reebok hockey gear and play the game that I love in Vancouver, BC.
The few days that followed were filled with story telling, catching up with my family and friends who came to join me in Vancouver and just taking the time to relax a little bit and wrap my head around really being done. Above anything else, it was so important for me to have my family there with me in Vancouver, just like they were there for me when I left Toronto.
The final Courage Canada related event in Vancouver took place at The GM Place on Saturday night as the Vancouver Canucks hosted the Minnesota Wild where I was personally featured on the jumbotron during the game for the 18,800 fans in attendance. There were several video clips, an explanation of Courage Canada and a brief interview with myself that ran during the game, and I also got the opportunity to do a short interview with Scott Oak of CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada that aired to countless viewers who tuned in on national television.
After the game I was presented with a signed Vancouver Canucks jersey and I was able to meet with several Canucks team members such as Captain, Roberto Luongo and Alex Burrows. It was a real honor to be invited out to the game that evening, and it was another great memory to add to a long list that has been built up over the past 111-days.
My arrival back in Toronto came so quickly, yet, after a great couple of days in Vancouver I was so ready to be back home!
As I stepped through the doors of the baggage claim area and into the main terminal I was welcomed home by a roaring crowd of close to 100 people! With Canadian flags waving, cowbells ringing, cheers, shouts, and banners, this was it. These were the people, the community, and the city that stood by me and supported me throughout the past three and a half months, and I couldn’t be happier to have come full circle and to be back in my hometown once again.
As much as a major part of my journey had come to an end, I now knew that the next part of my journey, and my life were going to start up again. Now it was time to put the pieces of the puzzle in order and begin to execute the mission of Courage Canada. Before departing on my Quest to the West it was all about achieving my goal and fulfilling my dream; now that I am back home it is about giving the opportunity for blind youth across the nation to have a chance to dream like I did as a kid. Courage Canada is about being able to wake up in the morning and get excited about stepping on to the ice, engaging in the sport of blind hockey, and being a part of a team, and, in this sense the journey is not over.
I have been watching the video clips of my arrival over and over again throughout the past few days since my return to Toronto. Rejoicing in the moment where I break the tape, a Canadian flag above my head attached to my hockey stick, and the words, “It is over” echoing through the crowd as tears run down my face. It’s almost hard for me to believe that it was under a week ago now that I crossed the finish line, because just like the day I left Toronto on June 27, October 16 will somehow always feel like it was yesterday. Until the first blind youth takes their first strides out on the ice as a result of Courage Canada and the programs that we now look to put into place, I have a feeling like I will always look back on my Quest to the West as the best collective moment in my life.
I will continue to blog periodically over the coming weeks, months, and years as Courage Canada continues to grow and develop, and I hope everyone reading this knows and understands that the end of my Quest was just the beginning of my life, and the life of Courage Canada.
Stay tuned for more, and thank you all so much for being a part of my journey, and making an impact on my life!
Send Mark DeMontis a note via:
Thu Oct 22 2009 @ 11:02am by Mark DeMontis
More Than A Feeling (1 Day To Go) - Oct 16
Seeing as this was the last full day of skating on my Quest to the West there were so many thoughts and emotions going through my mind. Crossing into a much more urbanized area than I have skated through in quite some time it really gave me the feeling of being close to the end.
I had goosebumps all over my body as I left the city of Mission this morning, and still felt the tickle of the hairs on the back of my neck as I rolled through Port Coquitlam at the end of the day.
Every time I sit down I find my right leg shaking up and down. Every time I am standing up I notice that I begin to pace back and forth. The excitement is building up inside me to the point where I feel as though I am going to explode, but, it’s a feeling that I’ve been waiting for since I left Weston Lions Arena on June 27.
As much as I am nervously anticipating the finish line I am also focused on what I still must do in order to get there by 11:00AM tomorrow. I am still unsure about how I will feel when I get there. I can only imagine that it will be a feeling of triumph; a sense of achievement. I believe that it will be a feeling that is similar to the one that I had when I left from Toronto, yet, at the same time something entirely new and unique.
Someone once told me that to every good story there is a good ending. I began a story when I departed from my hometown of Weston on Saturday, June 27, and I will conclude this tremendous tale tomorrow morning, Friday, October 16. I can only hope that this story of mine will be able to capture the great sense of achievement that I feel as though I’ve reached. I can only imagine that this is something that will quite possibly do down in history. Moreover, I can only keep dreaming that the story does not end at the finish line in Vancouver, but, will continue to grow along with Courage Canada as the days, months, and years go on.
There was no better way for me to end off the final night on this journey then to get the opportunity to sit down and talk with Judi Fox-Alder, Terry Fox’s sister at the Best Western Coquitlam Inn. Judi came by to chat with the team and I and share many of her memories of Terry, and about her current involvement with the Terry Fox Foundation.
Judi brought me two books about Terry, as well as t-shirts for myself and the boys, and I must say, this meeting meant so much to me especially on a day like today. I know that I will be wearing that t-shirt under my jersey tomorrow as I skate through Vancouver, knowing that Terry Fox and his spirit will help carry me strongly through the finish line.
Today was so special for me in so many ways. Just to know how far I have come, physically, mentally, and geographically since the end of June is often hard for me to believe, however, today there was no way to ignore it. I have made it so far. I have now come so close to conquering what I set out to achieve. And tomorrow morning I will cross that finish line at Riley Park Community Centre with my head held hight and my family, friends, teammates, and the Vancouver community beside me.
As of tomorrow morning at 11:00AM it will no longer be about what I set out to do; it will be what I have done!
Please stay tuned to hear about my arrival at Riley Park Community Centre and my weekend in Vancouver early next week as I write my first blog back in Toronto.
Thank you all once again for being a part of my journey.
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Fri Oct 16 2009 @ 3:19am by Mark DeMontis
Accomplishments (2 Days To Go) - Oct 14
An anonymous individual once wrote, “When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better.”
As of a couple of years ago, Courage Canada was just a small thought in my mind, a dream that I had one evening on a train ride from Collingwood to London, ON. Over a year has now passed since I launched Courage Canada as a National Non-Profit Organization, and since that time Courage Canada has grown from a grassroots organization and has developed into something much greater than I could have ever dreamed of that day on the train. Courage Canada has not only grown in my eyes and in the eyes of many across Canada, but, it has flourished as a result of the awareness and the support of those throughout the nation.
What began as a simple website, spawned into various social media pages, and was taken on by countless media outlets both local and national. It all started from this dream I had; to give blind youth across Canada the same opportunity to play the game of hockey as I did growing up, and to complete an inline-skate from my hometown of Weston in Toronto all the way to Vancouver to prove that the blind can still skate. As of this evening I am under 48-hours from living-out this dream of mine, and I would like to share some of the accomplishments that have come from taking my dream, and doing everything in my power to make it a reality.
Since Courage Canada officially launched its website just over a year ago we have now received over 55,000 visitors who have logged-on to learn more about the organization, read about my story, and follow my team and I throughout my Quest to the West through this blog.
Over a year ago I wasn’t sure what to expect from the general public when it came to their interest in this organization and my campaign, however, this statistic alone is one that is not only incredibly overwhelming for me, but provides me with a true sense of accomplishment.
Through Courage Canada’s various social media pages, such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, the exposure that we have gained has been absolutely tremendous. The “Courage Canada” Facebook group has now exceeded 1,500 members since the organization was established, and “Mark Demontis’ Quest to the West. Summer 2009” Facebook group is now quickly approaching 1,000 members over the short period of three and a half months. The “Courage Canada” Twitter page (http://twitter.com/couragecanada) is constantly followed throughout the day by nearly 200 individuals across the world, as I constantly update my status out on the road and share my thoughts and feelings with a truly engaged audience. Also, our MySpace page (www.myspace.com/couragecanada) has generated a phenomenal response from individuals who have logged-on to view the roughly 5,000 photos that have been taken over the course of the journey.
Aside from Courage Canada’s social media sites, the local and national media coverage that we have received since day one has helped us spread our message and raise awareness about the sport of blind hockey in a major way. From local media coverage in countless villages, towns, and cities throughout Canada to major national segments, the goals of Courage Canada and my personal story have been covered through radio, print, and television outlets alike.
Two media outlets have also provided constant coverage of my Quest to the West since I departed from Weston Lions Arena on June 27: My local newspaper, The York Guardian, which is published by Inside Toronto (distributing community newspapers to towns all across the Greater Toronto Area), has written a weekly column on my journey across Canada, constantly keeping my hometown in the loop with my Quest (www.insidetoronto.com). TacTV: The Accessibility Channel (www.tactv.ca) has also been following my Quest to the West, and highlighting my story on a daily basis through audio, video, and written segments and have been incredible supporters of my journey.
All of the coverage that Courage Canada and my Quest to the West has received has contributed tremendously to the success of this campaign and has allowed us to reach unforeseen potential both in terms of awareness and on a financial level.
Since departing on my Quest, Courage Canada has raised over $60,000 towards the establishment of hockey programs for blind youth across the nation! Through donations made on the website (www.couragecanada.ca/sponsorships), public support out on the road, fundraising events across the country, contributions from Lions Clubs along the route, and merchandise sales (hats, t-shirts, cufflinks), Courage Canada is now over $60,000 closer to bringing blind youth across Canada the game of blind hockey.
On top of the money raised out on the road it is due in large part to the generous efforts of Courage Canada’s sponsors that my Quest to the West was able to take place. I could not end this blog without recognizing the amazing individuals and companies that have made this dream of mine a reality, and ensure in turn, that blind youth across the nation will be one the ice in the near future.
First of all I need to extend a special thanks to the owner of the Ottawa Senators NHL Hockey Club and our lead sponsor, Mr. Eugene Melnyk, for believing in my vision and allowing this organization to grow to where it is today (http://senators.nhl.com/club/page.htm?bcid=tea_OfficeDetails_memberID_4).
To all of our other outstanding sponsors: -FC Financial Group (http://www.fcfinancialgroup.com/home/) -Mortgage Cents (http://mortgage-cents.com/) -Tim Horton’s (http://www.timhortons.com/ca) -Emery Village BIA (http://www.emeryvillagebia.ca/) -Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 (http://www.atu113.org/) -Active Green and Ross (http://www.activegreenross.com/) -Lions Clubs of Canada (http://www.lionsclubs.org) -Reebok (http://www.reebokhockey.com/) -Strong Foundation Inc. (http://www.strongfoundation.ca/) -Expedia (http://www.expedia.ca) -The National Hockey League (http://www.nhl.com) -The Toronto Maple Leafs (http://mapleleafs.nhl.com/) -Easy TechCare (http://www.easytechcare.com) -Golden Fleece Foods (http://www.goldenfleecefoods.com/) -Oakley (http://oakley.ca) -Trilage Hockey (http://trilage.com/) -IceMice (http://icemice.ca/) -Verdi Produce -Rock-It Productions -Rogers (http://www.rogers.com) -The Dominion Insurance (http://www.thedominion.ca/) -Boston Pizza (http://www.bostonpizza.com) -Best Western (http://www.bestwestern.com) -Pizzaville (http://www.pizzaville.ca) -Steam Whistle Brewing (http://www.steamwhistle.ca) -The Canadian Blind Sports Association (http://www.canadianblindsports.ca)
Thank you so much for all you have done to see my vision through and make my Quest to the West a success.
On top of all of the corporate support that the organization has received over the past year I owe a tremendous amount of thanks to all of the incredible individuals who have volunteered their time in support of this campaign. You are an exceptional group of people and your tireless effort and dedication to this project has made all the difference in the world.
First of all I would like to thank my team members, and three of my best friends, Cameron, Jason, and PJ. Your commitment to this campaign means so much to me; you have stuck by me through thick and thin and I cold not have gotten through this journey if it wasn’t for you three.
To all of those who helped me establish Courage Canada and who have continued to support the organization in various ways throughout the past year: Our Vice-Presidet; Cameron Williams, Our Director of Finance: Paolo Abate (FC Financial Group), Website Designer: Dekker Slade (http://www.rdscreative.ca/), Website Manager: Susan Hua, our National Lions Representative: Barbra Zidner-Leek (Weston Lions Club), National Public Relations, our Event Producers: Karen Cecy (Rock-It Productions) and Bonnie Taylor (IceMice), Videographers: Phil Dixon and Adam McSorley, Photographer: Ryan Hughes (http://ryanhughes.ca/), Feature Artists: John Tayles (http://www.myspace.com/johntayles), Scott Jackson (http://www.myspace.com/sjbeatbox), Erika Finestone (MySpace coming soon). Thank you all so much for dedicating your valuable time and hard work towards the betterment of Courage Canada and this campaign.
To all those from my hometown of Toronto who have helped spread the message of Courage Canada and who have backed me up over the years and throughout my Quest: OPP Deputy Chief Julian Fantino, my local MPP Laura Albanese, MP Alan Tonks, Toronto City Councillors Francis Nunziata and George Mammolitti, The Toronto Ice Owls, The Weston Minor Hockey League, York Memorial Collegiate Institute, C.R. Marchant Middle School, the Weston Lions Club & York Lions Club, and everyone from the city of Toronto and the community of Weston. Knowing that I have the support of my community behind me has been paramount in ensuring the success of this endeavor, so, thank you all so much.
To those who have continued to inspire me and keep me motivated throughout my journey: Walter Getzky, Herbert H. Carnegie, Ron Ellis, Johnny Bower, my personal trainer Daryl Devonish (D Man Lifestyle), my chiropractor Dr. Marco Capizzano (Royal York Chiropractic Clinic) and of course my mentor Chris Delaney. This remarkable group of individuals have helped me emotionally and physically over the past year in so many ways and I owe a great deal to you all, so, thank you.
To those who have taken us in and treated us like we were family while out on the road; Lions Clubs, campgrounds, motels, hotels, various establishments, and of course the select few individuals and families who have welcomed us into their homes. You have made such a genuine impact on this trip and have allowed the team and I to better understand the generous and welcoming nature of those across Canada.
Most importantly, to my parents and my brother Lucas; thank you for believing in me since day one and helping me develop into the person that I am today. You three are my heart and my soul and I could have never done this without your support. I can’t wait for you guys to be the first people I see when I cross the finish line in Vancouver, just as you were there beside me as I set off on my Quest from Weston.
Thank you to all Canadians who have been a part of this journey. The success of this campaign is a testament to the nature of the country we live in and the incredible individuals that come from across the world and call themselves Canadians.
As I mentioned before, one year ago I could have never dreamed that Courage Canada would achieve what it has thus far, and most of all, I am proud to say that the journey will not end once I reach Vancouver. Following the completion of my Quest to the West it will then be time to begin to implement these hockey programs for blind youth across the nation. I have been working closely with various cities across Canada, The Canadian Blind Sports Association, Provincial Blind Sports Associations, and many corporate supporters and we will continue to ensure that these programs will begin to take form and are implemented throughout the country in the near future.
While my Quest to the West has done exceptionally well in raising funds thus far to ensure that these programs get off the ground it is still incredibly important that those of you who are reading continue to encourage those around you to contribute to the cause. Without the continued financial support of people like you these programs will be unable to reach their full potential.
MY GOAL is to raise $100,000 by the end of October!
PLEASE continue to support Courage Canada financially and encourage all of your friends, family members, and businesses to get involved as well!
There are so many ways to donate, both online and through the mail. There is an amazing line of EXCLUSIVE COURAGE CANADA MERCHANDISE (hats, t-shirts, cufflinks) currently for sale through the website. More great merchandise will be available for sale very soon including a new one piece hockey stick brought to you by our new sponsor, Trilage Hockey (http://trilage.com/), as well as authentic stitched Courage Canada jerseys!!
Please DONATE NOW and add to the already long list of accomplishments that Courage Canada has.
Once again, it is all thanks to YOU that Courage Canada is where it is today, and I am eternally grateful for all of the support the organization and myself have received thus far!
You are all helping me realize my dream, one day at a time.
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Thu Oct 15 2009 @ 5:00am by Mark DeMontis
Connecting in Chillwack (3 Days To Go) - Oct 13
I started out today on Highway 7 from Hope, BC en route to Chilliwack as some helpful last minute information came our way. Apparently it is illegal for anyone to skate/run/bike or do any such activity on Highway 1 anywhere west of Chilliwack, so, in order to avoid any problems the team and I began from Highway 7 this morning which runs further north.
It was a dull windy day out on the road, but the evening that lay ahead was a ray of bright sunshine. After finishing up with under 100KM of skating to go until Vancouver the guys and I drove into downtown Chilliwack to enjoy a potluck dinner at the meeting of The Mount Cheam Lions of Chilliwack with some very special guests.
Among the members of three Lions Clubs in attendance, The Mount Cheam Lions, The Dogwood Monarch Lions, and the Chilliwack Lions, two of Terry Fox’s siblings came by to meet with the team and I. Terry’s brother Fred and his sister Judi drove in to town just to come out and meet with the guys and I. I felt really honored to get a chance to not just meet Fred and Judi, but, to also get a chance to share my story along with them and receive their support.
As most of you blog readers know, Terry Fox has been my hero for most of my life, and as I am now so close to completing my Quest to the West I feel more connected to Terry than I ever have before. Also, now that I have hit the three day mark until I will conclude my Quest in Vancouver it was just such perfect timing for me to get the opportunity to sit down and chat with Fred and Judy. Meeting them has given me that extra bit of inspiration to finish, and to finish strong.
Sharing my story along with all of the Lions Club members after a delicious dinner was also a really great experience for me as this was likely the last Lions Club that the guys and I will be meeting with until the arrival in Vancouver this Friday.
Once again I must thank the Mount Cheam Lions Club as well as all of the Lions Clubs across Canada who have hosted us along this trip. The Lions have been so outstanding over the course of this journey and it is so important for them to know how much of an impact they have made on my Quest. I know that I will be working closely with the Lions Clubs upon my return to Toronto and throughout the development of Courage Canada.
Now as I sit back in my bed at the Travelodge in Chilliwack I am just three days and under 100KM away from crossing the finish line at Riley Park Community Centre in Vancouver at 11:00AM PT this Friday.
All I can say is, life is good right now, and I know it’s only going to get better!
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Wed Oct 14 2009 @ 2:03am by Mark DeMontis
The Final Stretch (4 Days To Go) - Oct 12
There is not too much to be said for today, especially after coming off such a high note over the weekend. After saying goodbye to the Miller family in Kelowna and travelling back to the Coquihalla Highway where I left off on Saturday I still felt as if I was in this happy sort of bubble.
The team and I arrived in Hope, BC, this evening and are enjoying our complimentary accommodations at the Quality Inn here in town. Lying in my bed is giving me a great chance to reflect over this past weekend and prepare myself for the next four days that follow.
I phoned home just a few minutes ago and got a chance to talk with my whole family over speaker phone (aunts, uncles, cousins) during their Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I told them about my weekend and honestly had to tell them that I had just spent the best Thanksgiving of my life. While it was so amazing for me to share my experience along with them I literally ended the conversation with streams of tears running down my face as I thought about how soon I would be seeing all of them.
I also caught up with Chris Delaney over the phone and shared the experience I had meeting Zach and the Miller’s over the weekend. It seems as though things have really come full circle for me on this campaign; I am getting the same feelings as I had the week before departing from Toronto, constantly pacing around the room and talking non stop about what’s to come.
Now I have truly entered the finishing stretch on my Quest to the West, and I am ready to enjoy these last few days to their fullest potential.
After tonight I will make stops in the cities of Chilliwack, Abbotsford, and Burnaby before arriving in Vancouver this Friday, September 16 at The Riley Park Community Centre for our official arrival at 11:00AM Pacific Time!
ONLY 4 DAYS TO GO!!!!
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Tue Oct 13 2009 @ 2:50am by Mark DeMontis
Thankful - Oct 10 & 11
The Thanksgiving weekend kicked off in the perfect manner and only got better and better as the weekend progressed. Going into a weekend that is so heavily built around spending time with family and friends I was growing a little homesick at the thought of spending the holidays away from my family. This journey, however, is all about stepping out of the norm and embracing the things and more importantly, the people that surround you, and this weekend I feel genuinely fortunate to have made many meaningful connections that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.
On a cold Saturday (Oct 9) morning in Merritt the team and I waited anxiously to meet with the Miller family at the local Tim Horton’s. I have been so fortunate to meet so many great people over the course of this trip, however, I knew that this meeting would be of a different tone than most. Darren and Heather, two wonderful parents from Kelowna, BC, had stumbled upon an article about Courage Canada and myself in The Rocky Mountain Outlook while on a trip to Banff, AB, right around the time the team and I were in town. While many have told me that they’ve felt a connection to my story and the cause, Darren and Heather took very strongly to what was outlined in the article, as their 10-year-old son, Zachary, has a very similar eye condition to my own and is also legally blind.
Zach’s eye condition is called Optic Nerve Atrophy (ONA), and like Leber’s (the condition I am affected with), ONA causes a weakening or partial deterioration of the optic nerve, which is the channel that carries information from the eye to the brain. Heather and Darren first noticed possible symptoms of an eye disorder when Zach was four-years-old and was frequently needing to move closer to the television in order to see the figures on the screen.
Lucky for Zach, Darren and Heather are incredibly supportive and loving parents and they encouraged Zach to get involved in sports at a young age. Zach has played in several house leagues including soccer and hockey and still continues to actively engage in recreational spots despite his condition.
As soon as Heather read the article she looked up Courage Canada’s contact information through the website and our Facebook pages and got in touch with Cameron to try and organize a meeting. Knowing that the programs Courage Canada seeks to establish could greatly benefit Zach and help him to pursue his love for hockey, it was important for her as much as it was for us to get a chance to connect. More so, on a much deeper level, it was important to Heather for her son to meet someone who had been through similar experiences, and to have an individual for Zach to look up to, just like I have found my mentor in Chris Delaney. So, despite the fact that our route did not take us through Kelowna, Heather and Cameron worked hard to coordinate a visit so that Zach and the rest of the family could get a chance to meet me before we were too far west.
I’m certainly glad that Heather was so persistent in arranging this meeting because it led to quite possibly one of the greatest experiences on this entire trip.
After spending several hours hanging out with Zach, Darren and Heather, their two daughters, Courtney and Ashton, Darren’s sister Glenda, and her two daughters Savannah, and Indiana I knew that I had met a special bunch. It was so amazing for me to get an opportunity to connect with a kid like Zach, who despite his situation is outgoing, energetic, good natured, and crazy about sports. It really brightened my day to be able to sit down with him and his family and share what it was like for me when I started to lose my sight. To be able to emphasize the fact that amidst hardship and uncertainty, I have been able to bounce back and channel my love for the sport of hockey into a rewarding venture, such as my Quest to the West, and a fulfilling future, with Courage Canada.
After such an amazing morning with the Miller family I was left with so much positive energy to take with me out on the road in the afternoon. I had a giant smile on my face as I continued to head west on the cold, steep, Coquihalla Highway, and when I got into the RV for a quick break Jason had more encouraging news for me. While the idea had been brought up earlier on in the day, several conversations between Jason and Glenda left no real room to say, “No thanks” to the offer that presented itself.
The Miller’s had enjoyed our company, as much as we had enjoyed theirs, over the course of the morning that they had insisted that the team and I make the drive out to Kelowna to have Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma Darlene and Grandpa Bill’s house. Well, I have to tell you, at first it was hard for me to wrap my head around this idea from a logistical perspective, however, it really didn’t take very much convincing for the guys and I to reach a unanimous consensus.
Not only did we already know we would be in the company of so many great people, but, based upon how incredible the small part of the family that we had already met were, it was certain that the rest of the bunch had to be equally incomparable. Also, given that all of us on the team were feeling a little bit homesick during this time of the year, it was so nice, as well as so unexpected, to be welcomed into not only a home, but a family, for the holidays.
So, after concluding the days skate it was off to Kelowna, BC, in the gorgeous Okanagan Valley, to spend Thanksgiving weekend with the Miller family and their wonderful friends.
The overall experience was one that was not only so memorable as far as this trip goes, but, is also one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Firstly, getting a chance to truly connect with a great kid like Zach and get to know him better over the course of a few days encapsulated the spirit of this journey in such a fitting manner. Despite some very rough days and difficult challenges over the past three and a half months out on the road, knowing that I have inspired a young boy like Zach has made every little bit of hardship worthwhile. As much as I know that Zach has learned from my story, and the path I have chosen for myself, Zach’s positive persona and exceptional outlook on life is something that has undoubtedly enriched my life.
Secondly, to the entire Miller family and all those in attendance over the course of the weekend, thank you ever so much!
To Darlene and Bill, for welcoming the team and I into their beautiful home, for providing us with a delicious meal, and for making us feel like we were a part of your family over the past two days; thank you.
To Jody and Darrel, I know how hard you both worked to help prepare the house for such a phenomenal weekend. Sharing my story along with the two of you and getting a chance to hear about your travels and the things that you’ve done was really amazing; thank you.
To Glenda, Savannah, and Indiana, you guys are so full of life and love and I can’t express how fortunate I am for getting the opportunity to meet the three of you. Your zest for life and beautiful singing voices could make anyone smile through the worst of times, you truly are rockstars; thank you.
To David, Jagger, and Mikaela, although like the boys and I you’re not related to the Miller’s by blood, it is quite clear that you’ve become a part of their clan, and I can certainly see why. You’re incredibly good natured and fun to be with; thank you.
Last but certainly not least, to Heather, Darren, Courtney, Ashton, if it wasn’t for you guys this entire weekend would have never happened for us. The day we met you in Merritt our plans for Thanksgiving consisted of hopefully finding an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant and calling it an early night, yet, as a result of your huge hearts and unnecessary outreach, we felt like we not only had a place to go, but, that we were part of a family as well. You guys have made such an impact on this trip and on my life and I know that this weekend was just the start to a great and long lasting friendship; thank you!
This entire weekend was really a culminating experience for the team and I as we enter the final week of this journey. What started as a simple meeting turned out to be one of the most personally rewarding experiences of the past 106 days and my life as a whole. Barring the fact that I have not yet crossed the finish line in Vancouver, if I were to end my Quest today, I would feel entirely satisfied with what I have accomplished.
Before embarking on this journey my mentor Chris Delaney said to me, “Mark, If you can change the life of one person over the course of this trip, then the whole thing will be worth it”.
Finally, to Zach, thank you for making it all worth it!
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Tue Oct 13 2009 @ 2:44am by Mark DeMontis
Still Uphill? (7 Days To Go) - Oct 9
It was a frigid climb back up to over 4,000-ft today as I reached the highest point of the Coquihalla Highway en route to Merritt, BC. Despite the sunshine, the clear skies allowed for the mountain breeze to pierce through my many layers of clothing and chill me right down to the bone.
I’m not sure if those I have been talking to about it being “straight downhill from Rogers Pass all the way until Vancouver” have never driven on the Coquihalla before, but, after the past two days of skating I can assure you that I have done nothing but climb straight uphill. Today was probably one of the top five hardest days on the trip with massive uphill stretches combined with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark.
As I skated higher and higher I could make out the contrast of white snow on the brown hills and could see my breath in the air off my peripheral, while my hands froze even with gloves on. I think that my physical fatigue got the better of me today, despite my best attempts to remain mentally strong. Now that I’m so close to the end of my journey, and also, due in part to my misguided expectations of being passed all the uphill sections of highway, I often felt like I was skating as hard as I could without actually moving anywhere. This final stretch of the trip has certainly proved to be a much greater challenge than I had initially anticipated, yet, every day I make sure to remind myself that it’s almost over.
After today I have now reached the final week of my Quest to the West, and knowing that I am so close to conquering my goal, and just one week away from celebrating with my family and friends in Vancouver is what’s continuing to push me every stride of the way.
I got a chance to catch up with both Q101 Radio as well as with Jedd Anderson of The Merritt Herald (newspaper) at The Knights Inn, who accommodated the team and I for the evening in Merritt. Following the tiring day on the road I felt very fortunate to be able to unwind at The Knights Inn and I’d like to thank Hino, the owner of The Knights Inn, for his generosity.
It’s on to Hope, BC on Monday and then Chilliwack on Tuesday. I sincerely hope that the downhills and the warm temperatures will have picked up by then!
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Sat Oct 10 2009 @ 9:54pm by Mark DeMontis
Climbing Out of Kamloops (8 Days To Go) - Oct 8
The support that I received out on the road today as I skated through Kamloops, BC was well needed as I battled hard through cold weather and challenging hills. I was very fortunate to have the excellent support of the Kamloops RCMP as I climbed uphill for the majority of the day.
Kamloops, the “Tournament Capitol of Canada” is situated in the Thompson Valley, therefore, there are long steep hills everywhere. Unfortunately for me, all of the hills traveling westward were going up. The community members throughout the city, however, honked their horns, cheered through their car windows, and even pulled over to the side of the road to offer up kind words of encouragement and hand us donations, which helped motivate me through a really tough day.
I’m not sure if it was due in part to the great local media coverage we received yesterday or if it is more a testament to the genuine people who live in Kamloops, but, I must extend my sincerest thanks to the Kamloops community for helping me finish the day strong.
I know that I have another tough day ahead of me tomorrow as I must climb even higher on the Coquihalla Highway in hopes of reaching the city of Merritt, BC by tomorrow evening.
Only eight more days of hills and harsh weather to go until my arrival next Friday, October 16, at Riley Park Community Centre in Vancouver, BC @ 11:00AM PT.
I can’t wait to see you all there!
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Fri Oct 09 2009 @ 12:44am by Mark DeMontis
9 Days Until Vancouver - Oct 7
Day 10 in the countdown to Vancouver has come and gone after concluding my skate for the day in Kamloops, BC, the biggest city that I have hit since my arrival in British Columbia about a week and a half ago.
I have noticed that the landscape has been drastically changing over the past few days with a big decrease in the visibility of the mountains as well as the fluctuation in incline. Rather than having giant rocks visible off my peripheral now what I see are smaller rolling hills as I cross plots of farmland and valleyed areas.
Along with the change in scenery comes a real feeling of being closer to the end. I was speaking with Chris Delaney on the phone yesterday and he was telling me about what the last ten days on his cross Canada trip were like. He said that when such a long and difficult journey comes so close to culminating it can be hard to motivate oneself, while at the same time, the eagerness and anticipation of the finish line is what drives one forward. I know that personally, my desire to experience that feeling, to cross that line at Riley Park Community Centre, and to complete my Quest to the West is what keeps me going through these last ten days.
This morning I did several interviews with CFJC News Kamloops (TV) as well as 98.3 CIFM (radio), which helped me get going. Both of the interviews went very smoothly and after watching the CFJC News segment on TV this evening I was happy to hear the voice of John Rafferty, President and CEO of the CNIB showing his support for the campaign. I was very appreciative to hear that John was commending me for my efforts to give blind and low vision youth across Canada the awareness as well as the drive to pursue a healthy and active lifestyle through learning to play the sport of hockey.
Tonight in Kamloops the team and I got the opportunity to have dinner at the ABC Restaurant with members from several of the Kamloops Lions Club: the Paddlewheelers, Aberdeen, and Central Linos Clubs. It was great to share my story along with about a dozen members in attendance, and to get a feel for the warmth of those in the Kamloops area.
After a delicious and incredibly filling meal the team and I retired to our comfortable complimentary accommodations at the Hospitality Inn.
I’m really geared up for day nine and the rest of the days to come!
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Thu Oct 08 2009 @ 3:08pm by Mark DeMontis
Feeling The Finish Line (10 Days To Go)- Oct 6
This morning was a little different than most as I woke up from a great sleep with incredible soreness in my hamstrings. As much as my body has not always felt phenomenal in the mornings, considering the strain that I have put on it over the past 101 days I would say that I’ve been doing quite well.
Today, however, this pain in my hamstrings was excruciating. The backs of my thighs felt like they were wound together in a series of tight knots and big bruises. Luckily, after a solid stretch with PJ I was feeling in far better form and I was able to push myself closer towards Kamloops, BC, where I look to arrive tomorrow evening.
As much as the stretching helped me physically out on the road today, it was really the thought of being just 10 days away from my arrival in Vancouver that allowed me to block out the pain and focus on my skating.
On October 16 @ 11:00AM Pacific Time, as I conclude my Quest to the West in Vancouver, British Columbia @ the Riley Park Community Centre (50, 30th Ave. East, Vancouver, BC, V5V 2T9) brought to you by the Canadian Blind Sports Association and the City of Vancouver Parks Board!
PLEASE COME OUT AND SHOW YOUR SUPPORT on this monumental occasion! SPREAD THE WORD to your family and friends in the Vancouver area!
This will be a great celebration and I hope that everyone who is able to will come out and share in my journey along with me!
After nearly three and a half months out on the road it is hard for me to believe that the end is so near, however, I am more excited than ever to arrive in Vancouver and fulfill my dream of inline skating from my hometown of Toronto, ON to the home of the Winter Games in Vancouver, BC.