Category Archives: Inspiration

Garry Jespersen, Beating Expectations

Garry Jespersen
Garry Jespersen

If a child psychiatrist had been asked to  predict Garry Jespersen’s future, the prognosis might have included life on the street, years in prison, mental illness, even suicide. Having worked with adult prison inmates and also young offenders, I know that neglect and abuse in childhood is a potent recipe for failure, despair and anger. Garry’s life hasn’t followed this usual trajectory and I wanted to hear his story.

Sitting at our kitchen table recently, he surprised Linda and me with a warm smile that seemed to say, “I welcome you into the inner recesses of my life.” Then, in response to my question he grew serious. “My mom walked away when I was 3 months,” he said. “Social services took responsibility for me and my siblings. At age 1, I was placed in the home of a single woman who put me in the attic of her home. There was a bed and 3 potties. Until age 4 I was never allowed out of that attic. She came up in the morning to give me breakfast and in the evening she brought supper. I was terribly lonely. Often I cried. She would come up and slap me. She’d order me to be quiet and go to sleep.”

Garry’s only connection with the world outside was a small window high in the wall of the attic. He never saw a dog or cat or a man. Also, he never played with other children. No social worker checked on him.

“Not having people in my life, my speaking was limited,” he said. “When the Jespersens adopted me at age 4, I didn’t know how to express my fears or desires. Everything was strange to me and I was scared.” The neglect had stunted Garry emotionally and he couldn’t grasp the Jespersen’s love and compassion for him.

He was taught to do chores on the family farm. One day, at age 9, he got something wrong and his father reprimanded him. Garry didn’t have the emotional understanding to interpret his intent. Feeling rejected, he hitchhiked to another community and stayed away 10 days.

“When my Dad saw me coming along the driveway,” he said, “he cried and hugged me. He was so glad I’d come back.”

Inspite of the all-embracing love of the Jespersens, Garry continued to be an emotional cripple, a frequent condition of children and adults who have been abused. There was one positive in his life. Listening to his mother playing the piano, he became intrigued. His parents enrolled him in lessons with the Toronto Conservatory of Music and he discovered that he had talent.

Garry persuaded his dad to buy him a Harley Davidson motorcycle for rounding up the cows and bringing them to the barn. “When I was 15,” he said, “I had another emotional meltdown and again ran away, this time riding the Harley. I joined a biker gang and stayed away 2 years. When I returned, my family welcomed me with much hugging and crying.”

A few years later he became a realtor and his earnings surprised him. “I was living with 4 guys. There was a lot of drinking. One night I dropped off my date and drove to the High Level Bridge in Edmonton. I had no sense of purpose in my life. The money wasn’t giving me satisfaction or meaning. I intended to jump.”

A name began running through his mind repeatedly. “The name was Herbert Hiller. I remembered he was the pastor of the church my parents attended. I phoned him at 2 am. I was crying and I asked to see him right away. He agreed.”

Garry had a profound spiritual experience that night and once again returned home. “My Dad urged me not to go back to my job and friends. I told him I had debts to pay. He said give me a list and I’ll pay them. He also made arrangements for me to attend a Christian college.”

Garry Jespersen enjoys playing his sax
Garry Jespersen enjoys playing his sax

The healing that began in the pastor’s home was not an instantaneous event. Undoubtedly, music has contributed to the transformation. In addition to the piano, he has picked up the saxophone and also sings. He and wife Vi now live in Kelowna and he does 40-50 performances a year. His warm smile, firm handshake and positive message of hope are a clear indication that miracles are still possible.

When Garry Jespersen plays the piano, he uses the entire keyboard.
When Garry Jespersen plays the piano, he uses the entire keyboard.

Did Edward Greenspan Think Differently?

Edward Greenspan en.Wikipedia
Edward Greenspan
en.Wikipedia

I’ve sometimes wondered if exceptionally successful individuals like Jimmy Pattison use their brains differently than the rest of us mere mortals. Books like “The  Success Principles” by Jack Canfield suggest they do. In “The Case for the Defence” legendary attorney Edward (Eddy) Greenspan (1944 -2014) provides some helpful insights.

One case he cites involved Anthony, an Italian shopkeeper who had confessed to the shooting of 2 youths, both age 17. When the police arrived at his shop they saw the boys lying side by side on the floor, a total of 8 bullets in their bodies. In answer to their questions, Anthony was reported to have said, “they come in my shop. I shoot them.” Considering it an “open and shut” case, they charged him with first degree murder. The Crown Prosecutor agreed and opposed bail.

Retained to represent Anthony in court, Greenspan realized it would be extremely difficult to convince a jury to acquit a man who has shot 2 innocent youths from good families. He did not, however, assume it was hopeless and wondered if the police perception might be overly simplistic. It was his practise to question his own assumptions and those of others. He wasn’t a fan of easy explanations and applied a relentless work ethic to uncover the facts.

Having a curious mind, he felt somewhere in this tragic situation there might be information that would assist him in defending his client. Patiently questioning Anthony, he discovered the man had been born in Italy and because of his father’s ill health, had gone to work after grade 5. Upon emigrating to Canada he married a girl from his village in Italy and they had 2 children. To support his family, until the day of his arrest, he had worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. His English was rudimentary.

Greenspan felt he must gain an understanding of why a hard working man with a family might have shot 2 apparently harmless young men. Working tirelessly, as was his habit, he delved into every possible nook and cranny.

Examining police notes, Greenspan concluded his client had not understood their questions and they had not understood him accurately. They had written in the notes what they thought he had said.

What, he asked himself, would have led this seemingly harmless man to pull the automatic 32 calibre Beretta from a shelf behind the counter and shoot the boys? His questioning revealed that the 2 young men had entered Anthony’s shop on numerous occasions. Usually they harassed him with threats. One had stolen 5 gallons of gasoline. They had also thrown snowballs at his shop and broken a light bulb. They were big, strong boys and he was scarcely more than 5 feet in height. He admitted he had feared them.

Greenspan’s meticulous, unstinting research revealed that the youths had earlier threatened, bullied and physically attacked others. On the night of the shootings, they had entered Anthony’s shop just before his closing time of 10 pm. One took a swing at him, then reached for the cash register. When Anthony said, “I call police,” the youths said they would kill him before he could make the call.

Greenspan knew that in court, the Prosecutor, a skillful litigator, would almost certainly play hardball. Unlike Greenspan, he had accepted the police version of events. Greenspan understood fully the Prosecutor’s role and purpose was to tenaciously argue for a guilty verdict. He would not ferret out mitigating information. Believing Anthony deserved a harsh sentence, the Prosecutor would use every possible device to convince the jury he was of unsavory character.

In court, the Prosecutor argued that Anthony had shot the boys in revenge for the gasoline theft. However, Greenspan convinced the judge to allow him to present the bullying history of the 2 youths. He argued Anthony had become psychologically distraught by their threats. He had believed they intended to rob him and then kill him so he could not identify them later. Anthony testified “in all my life I have never been so afraid.” At the end of the trial, after 5 hours of deliberation, the jury found him “not guilty.”

Observing Edward Greenspan, Jimmy Pattison and others, I’ve concluded that along with their various skills and positive attributes, highly successful individuals possess a deep seated conviction that what others deem impossible might in fact be possible.

 

The Tulips Are Blooming!

Waves of Tulips photo by Terry Friesen
Waves of Tulips
photo by Terry Friesen

I have long  been an ardent admirer of Terry Friesen’s photography. Recently he sent me a couple of his photos with permission to post them. His note accompanying the photos said, “the Annual Seabird Tulip Festival is no more, but the growers of the tulips are now leasing land from my friend Frank Pauls in Greendale. The blooms are really coming out now.” Terry has posted more photos on his Flickr site https://www.flickr.com/photos/131268075@N06/page1/ Hope you enjoy them as much as Linda and I do.

Pink Upshot by Terry Friesen
Pink Upshot by
Terry Friesen

Mexico Trip With A Purpose

After 3 days on a Greyhound style bus, Ayrelea and Zion Nimchuk of

Ayrelea & Zion, at our home
Ayrelea & Zion, at our home

Hedley arrived in Zapata, an impoverished village in Mexico. They were part of a contingent of high school students on spring break. In four days they would construct simple houses for 2 families living in tiny one room shacks. Sitting at the table in our sun room, drinking tea and munching on Linda’s home made chocolate cookies, they talked with evident fervour about the poverty, the people and the building project. They seemed deeply humbled, and also excited by what they had experienced.

“The family for whom we built a house was living in a shack about the size of this room,” sixteen year old Zion said. I wondered how a family of 4 could live in a home measuring approximately 12 ft. by 12 ft. “They don’t have electricity or running water,” Ayrelea, age 14 added. “They cook meals outside on a 2 burner propane stove. One of the burners wasn’t working. They wash clothes by hand. Their bathroom is an outhouse.”

Ayrelea , along with 2 other volunteers, taking care of young children.
Ayrelea , along with 2 other volunteers, taking care of young children.

Neither of the Nimchuk youths speak Spanish. Zion has studied Japanese in school and Ayrelea has focused on sign language. It wasn’t a problem though, they agreed. They feel they came to know the family. “We learned a few simple words, like how to say dog,” Zion said. “This helped us to explain to the people, with gestures, that we would build a little house for their dog.”

Zion, making good use of his carpentry skills.
Zion, making good use of his carpentry skills.

Wanting to learn more about organizational details concerning the project, I called Les Clark, pastor of the Community Church in Kaleden. He has gone to Mexico 11 times and is the local organizer. “It’s done under the auspices of Live Different,” he said. “We draw youths from local schools. The cost is $1500 per individual. This covers all expenses for travel and staying in Mexico. It also pays for the materials to build the homes.”

This year they did a major bottle drive in Kaleden and hosted 2 spaghetti dinners to raise funds. A number of people in the community see the value for the students and the recipients. They contribute funds. “When a home is completed,” he said, “we furnish it with beds, mattresses, a 3 burner propane stove, a table and chairs, plus a fruit tree and other items.”

Shannon Beglaw of Keremeos again made the trip with her 2 children this year. “We want the kids to see that it’s possible to make a difference by showing kindness,” she said. “We are really grateful to the community for helping make this happen.”

According to Live Different, the sponsoring organization, “what we do allows our volunteers to see first hand how two thirds of the world lives. It expands their world view and gives them the opportunity to consider how they can build hope and change in their own lives.” They state further that “our programs are designed to inspire students to take immediate action to make a positive difference in their world.”

Volunteers working together, erect a wall.
Volunteers working together, erect a wall.

I wanted to know what impact the project had on Ayrelea and Zion. “We developed relationships with the family,” Ayrelea said. Zion nodded and added, “to really understand the conditions the people live in, you have to go there and see the one room shacks. We know now that they all need help.”

Ayrelea then offered another thought. “Even though they have so little, they are happy. They smile a lot.” Zion agreed, then added, “we have so much. We really are blessed in this country.”

Were there any significant interpersonal issues in the group? “Yes,” Ayrelea said. “The boys were getting to do all the hammering on the roof, while the girls painted. We wanted the experience of hammering too, so we brought this up at the evening debriefing. The next day the boys were painting the house pink, as requested by the family. The girls were on the roof hammering.” She smiled at the memory.

Ayrelea, on the roof.
Ayrelea, on the roof.

Do they hope to go again? Once more Ayrelea responded without hesitation. “Yes, I really want to go back and see the family.” Zion was equally certain. “I want to go back every year.”

At a time when challenges abound around the globe, the Live Different emphasis on being grateful and helping others is enabling local youths to make a positive difference internationally.

Rob Pelletier, Mob Boss of Wellness

Rob Pelletier,  Master Coach
Rob Pelletier,
Master Coach

As an instructor in mixed martial arts, Rob Pelletier has for many years taught his clients how to inflict pain. As a Master Coach in Toronto he instructed in boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, Self Defense and sports conditioning. He also managed a gym with 22,000 members. Almost 3 years ago he and wife Donna established a gym located on the main street of Keremeos. Since that time their vision has altered radically and, although they still offer instruction in martial arts, Coach Rob has become known as “the mob boss of wellness.”

When Linda and I entered their Main Event gym across from the liquor store, I was immediately impressed by the heavy duty punching bags suspended from the ceiling, the type that can withstand serious pummelling by powerful fists and feet. Rob walked toward us, exuding energy and enthusiasm. A big, well constructed man, I could easily picture him clad in shorts, engaged in high level competition.

 

IMG_2404

We sat on stools at a small coffee bar in the rear of the gym and I asked Rob how he had got started. A palpable passion energized his voice and hand gestures as he began talking. “When I was age 8, my parents enrolled me in boxing. I had a lot of energy and they thought boxing would be good for me.” That eventually led to a career in mixed martial arts. Early in his career he trained in the gym where 12 year old Lennox Lewis (later one of the world’s greatest heavyweight boxers) was working out. Over the years he trained with numerous high profile fighters and knew five time Canadian Heavyweight Boxing Champion, George Chuvalo.

“When Donna and I moved to Keremeos we began doing private training in our home,” he said. “We leased this building which was then vacant and in a state of disrepair.”

Donna Pelletier
Donna Pelletier

He now turned the conversation in another direction. “In the beginning Martial Arts was our emphasis, and we still do that. Donna teaches ladies kick boxing. However, retired people started dropping in. Some just wanted to have a coffee and talk. We began to realize their health was failing because many people are not physically active in retirement.”

Their changing clientele prompted a shift to promoting wellness. This attracted individuals of all ages wanting to deal with a variety of issues. Rob’s experience had prepared him for this transition. He had worked with sports psychologists and athletic therapists. He had also taken accredited courses in wellness.

Health professionals began recognizing the benefit of their programs. A cardiologist sent a man with a pacemaker. He had almost died, but is now working out on a treadmill at the gym. Physiotherapists are also referring clients. The Pelletiers are recognized by insurance companies. While we were talking, Don and his wife came in. Having had a shoulder replacement, he wanted help in gaining strength and movement.

 

“We’re a safety net for people in aftercare,” Rob said. “Some of our clients stop smoking. A wife told us her husband is drinking less alcohol. Some people report their medications are more effective when they work out here. Others rely less on prescriptions.”

The Pelletier’s have clients ranging in age from 5 to 80. Wanting to ensure that children from less affluent homes don’t miss out, they at times provide free memberships.

Sometimes people say, “I know I should exercise,” or “I should be more careful about what I eat.” But they don’t make the needed changes. “People rely on doctors and prescriptions to maintain their health,” Rob believes, “but we need to accept responsibility for our health.”

IMG_2409

He stresses the role of our thinking. “It’s important to focus on what we can do, not on what we cannot do. What we do here is a form of proactive medicine.” He draws a lesson from physical combat. “If 2 fighters of equal ability and strength are in the ring, the one with a stronger attitude will win.” He tapped his head with a finger to support his words. I began to understand that an emphasis on strong, positive thinking is at the crux of his philosophy.

As we were about to leave, Coach Rob said, “some people go across the street to the liquor store for what they think they need. Some come in here and begin a program of wellness that will change their lives.”

Exploring the Mystery of Easter

Crosses - three thepreachersword.com
Crosses – three
thepreachersword.com

Biblical accounts of Easter events seem to me improbable, puzzling and at the same time fascinating. As a kid I dreaded Good Friday because it entailed attending church and listening to a preacher who spoke a language I didn’t understand. In my adult years I’ve wondered why an all-powerful God would send his son to planet earth to be ridiculed and harassed by Jewish religious leaders and nailed to a cross by Roman soldiers. Surely he could have devised a more comprehensible scheme. One that did not require the ignominious death of his son on a cross.

By the time Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Jews had already endured the cruelty of the Assyrians, and then captivity in Babylon during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar. Permitted to return to their homeland by Darius, the Medo-Persian monarch, they had still been in bondage. Then the Greeks imposed Hellenization, weakening their culture and religion. And now the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus was exacting oppressive taxes that impoverished them.

The 6th century B.C. Jewish prophets, Isaiah and Micah, had written about a coming Messiah, but when Jesus arrived and said he was the son of God, Jewish religious leaders turned against him early in his public life. They had long anticipated a powerful political saviour who would arrive with pomp and ceremony and deliver them from the succession of foreign masters. This man Jesus had come into the world as an infant, the son of a lowly carpenter.

He didn’t meet their expectations. His message was a radical departure from the longstanding “eye for an eye and tooth for tooth” response to adversaries. Rather, in his oft quoted Sermon on the Mount, he urged the gathering crowd to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

His message included a warning against the hypocrisy of Jewish religious leaders, the Sadducees and Pharisees. “They like to walk around in flowing robes,” he said, “and love to be greeted in the market places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.”

Accustomed to reverential respect, such sentiments did not endear him to the religious elites. They were rattled by the rebukes and Jesus’ unwillingness to observe their myriad rules. They were incensed at the numbers of people flocking to listen to him. Equally galling was his claim to be the son of God. His radical philosophy was undermining their exalted positions.

The crowds recognized that, unlike the chief priests and teachers of the law, Jesus wasn’t socially or politically ambitious. He wasn’t seeking position, wealth or power. He made no effort to charm his audience. He wanted to free the people from man made strictures. His unorthodox, unvarnished message emphasized love, forgiveness and hope.

In line with what had been written by ancient prophets, he spoke of his own impending death. Referring to himself he said “he will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him and flog him, and kill him.” Then he added, “and on the third day he will rise again.”

One event in particular awed the crowds and shocked the Sadducees and Pharisees. This was Jesus’ act of raising Lazarus from the dead. It was too much for the religious elites. Seeing their tight control over the people being eroded, they decided he must die.

Crucifixion was common in the Roman Empire and they demanded that the governor, Pontius Pilate, order this fate for Jesus. After questioning him, Pilate said, “I find no reason for this man to die.” The Jewish leaders incited the onlookers to demand Jesus’ death and Pilate, fearing a disturbance, relented. He instructed a centurion and his troop to nail him to a cross on a hill outside the town. The cross was placed between 2 criminals, also on crosses. One mocked him, the other asked to be remembered. Jesus said, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

Easter Lily watermark.org
Easter Lily
watermark.org

This plan for the redemption of humankind is so unusual and perplexing, many cannot embrace it. Even so, millions around the globe will celebrate Easter this weekend.
Although still not fully comprehending, I will be one of them.

The Hedley Sunshine Girls

Hedley Sunshine Girls
Hedley Sunshine Girls

I call Evangeline and Shizandra the “Hedley Sunshine Girls” because their joy of life is refreshing and contagious, much like an unexpected ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. About a year ago I began thinking it would be fun to have them as my friends. When I attempted to get them to notice me though, I just didn’t possess the IMG_2386charm or charisma to capture their attention. They were in their own little world, sometimes crawling on the floor, pretending they were dogs, sometimes racing each other non-stop. Probably because I was an adult, their young minds could think of no reason to let me in.

IMG_2312I persevered though and asked their mother if I could take a few pictures. She agreed and although the girls didn’t stop long enough to pose, I snapped several shots of them in action. When I showed them the photos on my camera, they were intrigued at seeing themselves.

IMG_2387They are now willing to participate in my amateur photography and quickly come around to view the pictures. Evangeline even offered me an Oreo cookie which she had licked clean of the icing.

For many in our community, the Hedley Sunshine Girls are a delight. They give us a reason to smile.

20 Years As Hedley Postmaster

Ruth Woodin Celebrates 20 Years as Hedley Postmaster
Ruth Woodin Celebrates 20 Years as Hedley Postmaster

It would not be an exaggeration to say last Friday was a Red Letter day for Ruth Woodin. The people of the community arrived in droves to celebrate her 20 years as Hedley Postmaster. The town’s organizations and many individuals brought cards and stayed for coffee and cake. Her body may have been sore at the end of the day from numerous warm hugs. It was the culmination of many years of smiling at customers and providing efficient, courteous service.

Postmaster Ruth Woodin  with loyal customers, Brad & Lana Bain
Postmaster Ruth Woodin with loyal customers, Brad & Lana Bain

“I’m really fortunate to have so many nice customers,” she said. “A lot of people are very loyal to their local post office. They won’t buy their stamps anywhere else. They know that helps keep the service in town.”

The importance of supporting the Post Office is a message she feels everyone needs to be aware of. Occasionally she reminds a local citizen of this. “Several years ago a man came in with 75 Christmas cards,” she said. “They already had stamps affixed to them. I mentioned I didn’t recall him buying the stamps here. He told me he had bought them in Princeton. I explained to him it’s important to support the Hedley Post Office so the service isn’t discontinued. He understood immediately and promised me it wouldn’t happen again. A number of people in town have committed to buying stamps and other services here.”

At this time Ruth is Hedley’s second longest serving Postmaster. She hopes to overtake and pass the 22 year record held by highly respected Thomas (T.C.) Knowles. Knowles was a decorated member of the Canadian Armed Forces and served in World War I. Although no longer living in Hedley, his daughters Bev and Ann have valued roots and friendships in Hedley. The Knowles family sent Ruth a congratulatory card.

The Hedley Post Office was opened in 1903, initially located in Schubert’s General Store. Ruth said it is one of the oldest in the province. For years the Postmaster’s first duty in winter was to get a fire going in the wood stove. She is grateful she doesn’t come into a frigid office in the morning. The premises were last renovated in 1978 and would benefit from another face lift, but no one is complaining. People are just grateful to have a Post Office in town. Without it, buying a stamp would entail a lot more effort.

Canada Post provided several door prizes for the occasion, including a 2011 book containing every stamp issued that year. Fittingly, this was won by local historian, Jennifer Douglass. The chocolate cake was baked by T.J. Bratt of the Hedley Country Market and received numerous positive comments.

Local MLA Linda Larson sent a letter congratulating Ruth on 20 years of serving her community faithfully as postmaster. Pat, who works in the constituency office had read about Ruth online. She spoke with a local citizen and said, “It sounds like a very friendly Post Office. I wish I could pick up my mail in Hedley.” Judging by the happy buzz in the place on Friday, the people agree with this perspective.

Photos By Terry Friesen

"Back in the Day" by Terry Friesen
“Back in the Day” by Terry Friesen

I discovered Terry Friesen’s online photos approximately 2 years ago and have returned to them repeatedly since then. I called Terry at his home in Abbotsford this week and asked if I could “borrow” pictures occasionally for my blog. He very graciously acquiesced so from time to time I will post examples of his photography.

In his work life Terry refers to himself as a Re-decorator. He paints and hangs wall paper (including tricky murals) He has frequently written on his blog (terryography.blogspot.com)  about jobs just completed. For me it’s fascinating reading. For anyone contemplating giving a new face to their home it can be helpful.

Terry said he doesn’t do new homes. “From the beginning, I learned to be very careful around my customers’ furniture,” he said. “My son Andrew is my partner. He’s even more careful. It’s a privilege to work together with him. Working for customers in their homes is a lot more enjoyable for me than dealing with contractors. Contractors are more interested in getting the job done fast than in quality work.”

I hope you will enjoy Terry’s photos as much as I do. You can view a broad range of his photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/131268075@N06/page1/

 

 

Lauren Barwick, Inspirational Equestrian

Lauren Barwick
Lauren Barwick

In a 2 hour telephone conversation from her home in Florida last week, paralympic gold medalist Lauren Barwick told me about her devastating accident and how it changed her life. Born in Langley, BC, she loved horses and riding. When a 100 pound bale of hay fell on her and broke her back, she lost all strength and feeling in her legs from her hips down. That day she also lost her dream of being a movies stunt rider.

“After 2 months in the G.F. Strong Rehab Centre,” she said, “I returned to my home, thinking everything I had wanted to do was now impossible. Mom urged me to get on a horse, but I told her I wanted nothing to do with that.”

Only 22 when the accident happened in 2000, she drifted into a state of deep discouragement and depression. A former coach visited, and against vigorous protests, put her on a horse. He talked about preparing for the 2004 Athens Paralympics.

“I had been doing a lot of reflecting,” she said. “I knew I had 3 options. I could be miserable and make people around me miserable. I could end my life. Or, I could move on. I stopped asking ‘why me?’ Instead I now asked, ‘Why would I not be able to win a gold medal?’”

She had trained briefly at the renowned Parelli ranch prior to the accident, but had not completely bought into their philosophy. Now she negotiated with them and returned to the ranch.

Having no lower back muscles and no feeling in her legs, she embarked on a vigorous, disciplined program to strengthen her upper body. Regular visits to the gym included throwing a medicine ball and a lot of time on pulling machines. Outside she did sprints, and also longer distances, in her wheel chair. She grew stronger and now does 10 kilometres a day 2 to 3 times per week. She found mentors and read inspirational books. “I needed to become strong mentally, emotionally and physically,” she said.

The Parelli teaching was well suited to her physical circumstances. Pat Parelli emphasizes partnership without domination and willingness without intimidation. “Don’t kick the horse to start, don’t pull the reins to stop,” is basic to his teaching. Lauren’s philosophy reflects this understanding. There was evident joy in her voice when she said, “my horses catch me. I don’t catch them. I don’t force them to do what I want them to do. A horse can be an incredible partner.”

For Lauren the relationship with a horse is important, even precious. “I treat a horse the way I like to be treated. I want to be my horse’s first choice. I have to earn that by showing respect. It’s the same with humans.” She still stays up late to watch videos about horses. “Studying horsemanship has taught me about myself, morals, the way I live.”

This understanding helps her focus on the good in her life. She is grateful, especially to the Parellis. While under their sponsorship they paid her competition fees and provided accommodation and food. “The Parelli’s enabled me to obtain an incredible education.” She also appreciates the assistance of Canada’s “Own the Podium” program and Equine Canada.

Lauren Barwick, Paralympic Dressage Rider
Lauren Barwick, Paralympic Dressage Rider

Lauren’s capacity to focus on her vision, her discipline and courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, have earned her a place on the international equestrian stage. She has participated in some 50 international events, including 4 world games and the Beijing Paralympics, where she won silver and gold. She is also a much in demand public speaker, providing inspirational talks based on her life. Currently she is training for the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

A 4-star instructor in the Parelli Natural Horsemanship program, she operates her own farm and training centre at Reddick, Florida. She rides 2 to 5 horses a day, usually 6 days a week. Without use of her legs, this is tiring. For 2 to 9 hours a day she teaches horsemanship and conducts clinics and work shops. Her program, Bridging the Gap, attracts clients from diverse places like Germany, Norway, New Zealand, England and the U.S.

Lauren Barwick acknowledges that “since the day when that 100 pound bale broke my back, it hasn’t been easy.” Her parting words to me were, “We need to be open minded. That enables us to see the ideas and opportunities that may help us.”