Publishing stories of fascinating Prairie People and Unsung Heroes

Welcome to the blog of Deana Driver - author, editor, and publisher of DriverWorks Ink, a book publishing company based in Saskatchewan. We publish stories of inspiring, fascinating Prairie people and unsung Canadian heroes - written by Prairie authors including Deana Driver. We also publish genres of healing and wellness, humour, children's fiction, and rural poetry. Visit our website to learn more about our books.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Five COVID-19 Lessons Learned from the Paralympics - Lessons #4 & #5

Ten years ago, in March 2010, I was privileged to be a spectator at various cross-country skiing events in Whistler, B.C. during the 2010 Paralympic Games. 

I was also at the Games to support author and friend Mary Harelkin Bishop as she launched her book Moving Forward: The Journey of Paralympian Colette Bourgonje, which I helped her publish through my company DriverWorks Ink

Deana Driver and Mary Harelkin Bishop (top left and right) with Paralympian Colette Bourgonje's family (bottom left) and Mary's family (bottom right) at the 2010 Paralympic Games

What I saw and felt at the 2010 Paralympic Games reminded me of the ways we need to think and act during this time of self-isolation against the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the last few days, I've written about:

These are the final two lessons I learned from my experiences at the 2010 Paralympic Games that I see as important when thinking about "Flattening the Curve" of COVID-19.

Lesson #4 – Cheer For Everyone Until We All Get To The Finish Line.

The most incredible moments for me at the 2010 Paralympic Games came while I was in the bleachers with Mary and her family, watching the cross-country skiing events. Within a few metres of us were spectators and/or coaches from Germany, Poland, Russia, Belarus, South Korea, Japan, United States, and many other countries.

As athletes crossed the finish line in the various races, every person in the crowd stood and clapped and cheered.

Every person in the bleachers remained standing and cheering until every single athlete had come across the finish for their events.

Every. Single. Athlete.

We watched standing cross-country skiers who were blind come across the finish line behind their able-bodied guide. We witnessed blind Canadian skier Brian McKeever out-ski his guide at the end of a race in which he won a gold medal. It brought tears of wonder, joy, and Canadian pride to our eyes.
Canadian Paralympian Brian McKeever and his guide at the presentation of a gold medal 

We saw Paralympians skiing with only one leg or one arm or no arms. Some skiers finished their races several minutes behind the gold medalist, but they finished.

And the crowd waited for each and every one of them and cheered as they crossed the finish line. It was one of the best moments of humanity I had ever witnessed.

We need to be like this.

Each and every day. Do our part in stopping this pandemic from spreading. Cheer on every single person who is doing their part, especially all those who are providing essential services during this difficult time. Let’s cheer on every single person who is running this race. Cheer them on from the safety of our homes.

It has been an honour to share in telling Colette’s story to inspire others. Colette herself chose the title of Mary’s book. Moving Forward. She sees no way but forward in her life, no matter the obstacles. Let’s all do that too.
Colette Bourgonje and Mary Harelkin Bishop sign Moving Forward books at the Saskatchewan Pavilion, 2010 Paralympic Games

Lesson #5 – Pursue Excellence.

At the closing ceremony for the 2010 Vancouver Games in Whistler, Colette Bourgonje of Saskatchewan received a gold medal. It was in the form of the prestigious Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who conquer adversities through the pursuit of excellence in sport.

Let’s be like Colette.

During this pandemic, let’s decide to do our best to flatten the curve of this virus. Let’s stay safe, keep away from others, disinfect, keep connected socially but not in person, and let’s all conquer this adversity. Our lives and our world are depending on us. We can do it.

Colette Bourgonje received a gold medal to add to her bronze and silver medals (above) at the 2010 Paralympic Games

Paralympian Colette Bourgonje happily handed her 2010 Games bronze and silver medals to me and Mary, then hammed it up for the camera, pretending that she didn't know why we had them.

Note:  Mary Harelkin Bishop also wrote the children's picture book Gina's Wheels, about a child who met Colette Bourgonje and wondered what it would be like to be in a wheelchair. Order both books from DriverWorks Ink.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Five COVID-19 Lessons Learned from the Paralympics - Lessons #2 & #3

In celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Paralympic Games, I have been thinking about the events I witnessed and the emotions I felt as a spectator at cross-country skiing races and as a book publisher launching an inspiring new book there.

I realized that I learned five lessons that relate to this present time of self-isolating and reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Publisher Deana Driver (left), Paralympian Colette Bourgonje and author Mary Harelkin Bishop flanked by an RCMP officer at the Saskatchewan Pavilion, 2010 Paralympic Games, for the launch of the book Moving Forward: The Journey of Paralympian Colette Bourgonje

At the Paralympic Games, the spirit of caring for all humanity was obvious during every moment of my time there. It’s what we need to practice now too.

The first lesson is to Look After The Most Vulnerable.

Lesson #2 – Age Is Not The Only Factor.

Saskatchewan Paralympian Colette Bourgonje was 48 years old, more than double the age of some of her competitors at the 2010 Paralympic Games. Her age was often brought up in conversations and interviews but, at the end of the day, it did not stop Colette from competing in her cross-country sit-ski races.

Colette Bourgonje (front, facing right) on her sit-ski at the end of a 2010 Paralympic Games race

Colette had been training for years and had already won four Winter Paralympics medals in cross-country sit-skiing and four Summer Paralympic medals in wheelchair racing. She’d been an athlete for decades and had been training toward this. She worked hard and had a better chance of winning a medal at the 2010 Games because of her commitment to her goal.

If we see our race as our attempt to “Flatten The Curve” of the spread of COVID-19, we must all stand on that starting line – two metres away from each other, if you’re imagining it as a physical race. No matter our age or any other factor about our physical selves or lives, we must all work hard toward our goal of reducing the spread of this disease. Do not let anyone stop you from working toward this.

While we can be grateful that most children who have been infected have had only mild symptoms akin to a cold or flu, humans of all ages can spread the virus. This virus is such that we may not even know we are infected, so let's please all do our part and run this race from the comfort of your own homes until our governments and health authorities tell us it’s safe to return to our previous lives.

Lesson #3 – Don’t Give Up.

In 1980, Colette Bourgonje was about to graduate from Grade 12 in Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan. She’d won many athletic awards and was hoping to become a physical education teacher and an Olympic runner. Instead, she became a paraplegic after she was injured in a car crash near the end of the school year.

She did not let this sudden turn of events stop her. She went on to become the first student with a physical disability to enroll in the College of Physical Education at the University of Saskatchewan and the first such student to graduate from the College. She was the first female student in a wheelchair to graduate from a physical education program at any university in Canada and the first Canadian to win a Winter Paralympic medal on home snow – at the 2010 Games in Whistler.

I arrived at the 2010 Games the day after Colette won that first medal for Canada  a silver in the women’s 10-kilometre sit-ski race. I was thrilled to watch the presentation of that medal in the evening.

Colette Bourgonje, left, after the presentation of medals in the 10-km women's cross-country sit-ski

I was also privileged to watch Colette compete in the women’s 5-kilometre cross-country race. As the competitors made their way over the track into the woods, a large screen showed the parts of the trail that were hidden from spectators.

Spectators watched athletes and followed race stats on the large monitor at the 2010 Games
I held my breath when it was announced that Colette had fallen over on her sit-skis. I remember the vision of her laying on her side in the snow while the race continued. That may have been on the screen or perhaps in my imagination. Either way, it was upsetting.

Was Colette done racing? Would someone have to help her get up and off the track? I should have known better. This was Colette Bourgonje – a strong, independent, fierce woman with a determination she exhibits in everything she attempts.

After what felt like forever but was probably less than a minute, it was reported that Colette had righted herself and was continuing the race. The crowd – especially our Saskatchewan contingent – erupted in cheers. I was amazed, awed and thrilled when we saw Colette racing out of the forest and onto the home track. She finished the race in third place, earning a bronze Paralympic medal. At age 48. After falling.

So don’t give up during this troubling time, people. We may all feel like we have fallen – or been pushed – by this global pandemic. By taking the careful steps prescribed for the safety of ourselves and our communities, we will right ourselves again. And we’ll finish this race too, maybe even gaining new insights into our own lives and actions so we can make our new world better.

Colette Bourgonje, far right, wheels to the presentation area after winning a bronze medal in the 5-km race

Read more... Lessons #4 & 5.

Note:  Mary Harelkin Bishop also wrote the children's picture book Gina's Wheels, about a child who met Colette Bourgonje and wondered what it would be like to be in a wheelchair. Order both books from DriverWorks Ink.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Five COVID-19 Lessons Learned from the Paralympics - Lesson #1

Ten years ago, in March 2010, I was tromping up a trail in the forest near Whistler, B.C. preparing to take a spot in the bleachers at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games.

Saskatoon author Mary Harelkin Bishop was beside me, both of us (and many members of Mary's family) proudly waving Canadian flags and wearing bright red “Canada” toques and shirts announcing our support for a remarkable woman, cross-country sit-skier Colette Bourgonje, who was competing in her 9th Paralympic Games.

Publisher Deana Driver and author Mary Harelkin Bishop at Whistler, 2010 Paralympic Games

Author Mary Harelkin Bishop, second from left, and members of her family at 2010 Paralympic Games
We were in Whistler not only to cheer for Colette but to celebrate the release of a new book about her life – Moving Forward: The Journey of Paralympian Colette Bourgonje - which Mary Harelkin Bishop wrote and I published in partnership with Mary.

While we were at the Games, Mary and I sat beside Colette to launch Moving Forward at the Saskatchewan Pavilion of the Paralympics Games. My time at the Paralympic Games was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for this and many other reasons.

When I think back to the events I witnessed and the emotions I felt at the Games, I can draw parallels to our current COVID-19 situation.

The spirit of caring for all humanity has never been more evident to me.

It’s easy for me to understand the need to stay at home right now, insist on two metres of physical distancing any time I absolutely have to leave my home, and keep washing my hands and disinfecting any surfaces that could have become infected during this crisis.

It’s all about caring for myself and extending that self-love out to the world.

Lesson #1 – Look After The Most Vulnerable.

To get to the Paralympic Games cross-country skiing venue in Whistler, we were driven up the mountain in a transit bus and dropped off in a parking lot partway up the mountain. We had to walk the remainder of the way.

It was a long but beautiful walk through the forested mountains, over a small bridge, past a bubbly stream amid gorgeous scenery.

Anyone who had mobility issues was driven all the way up the mountain as close to the entrance as possible. 

With the coronavirus, steps have been taken in most jurisdictions to protect and care for individuals in hospitals, long-term care homes, and other facilities. Many grocery stores and pharmacies are inviting seniors to shop during special times to avoid contact with the virus. There are many others who need our care and support, however, including those who are new immigrants, on a low income, homeless, abused, alone, or battling some illness but not hospitalized.

We need to do what we can to help everyone in our communities while we are self-isolating ourselves in our homes. Reach out. Support the organizations that are helping the most vulnerable people in our midst. Self-isolate and keep physical distancing if you absolutely must leave your home. Contact individuals you know with a phone call or through social media. Make arrangements to help individuals or organizations financially if you can. Give others information about resources that may be available to help them. Check in with others regularly so you both know that you are not alone.

We can do this together.

Note: Mary Harelkin Bishop also wrote the children's picture book Gina's Wheels, about a child who met Colette Bourgonje and wondered what it would be like to be in a wheelchair. Order both books from DriverWorks Ink.