I first wrote about Grace Brulotte 16 years ago when she was born with a rare congenital disorder called arthrogryposis, a condition that stiffens body joints. “This affects one in 3000 live births” Grace says.
Grace constantly overcomes obstacles. Others may get gloomy about a bad day but for Grace each day is a bad day full of challenges.
With a fiercely independent spirit it seems ironic that she has to depend on bodily assistance at times and on a specialized wheelchair most of the time.
Grace may be physically challenged but she has been blessed with a quick, bright mind.
Although she doesn’t have mobility in her legs and feet and very limited mobility in her arms and hands this young woman plays the piano well and has co-authored a book. Articulate and knowledgeable about her condition, in her latest project she founded “FIRE”. “Fernie Inspire the Race to Empower” is the sit-ski program now available at Fernie Alpine Resort(FAR).
Two years ago she was feeling emotionally down, “trapped like a hobbit” she says with a smile. Her friend Katy Gibbs from Invermere told her that she needed to try sit-skiing, saying it was simply amazing.
Grace recalled how during ski days in school there was nothing for her so when she heard about this program and discovered that there wasn’t anything available in Fernie she went to Kimberley. Instructors Nip Bradford and Steve Norton took her out. “when I first saw it I was skeptical, I was scared but the instructor said too bad, I needed that first push to get past my fears, I really needed to step out of my comfort zone. The instructors were very enthusiastic in getting me in the sit-ski. Usually I feel like a have a 400 pound weight strapped to my butt, but with this what I experienced was a freedom from being disabled, something I never experienced before, a feeling of happiness, of being really free, I feel like I can fly, a release I don’t get often, my muscles tense but I can relax emotionally, I don’t have to worry about my life or my problems, this makes me face my fears. Although I was strapped in, it didn’t feel like it. I fell in love with sit skiing. With some kids the instructor holds onto a bar in the back to direct the sit-ski but they can also hold onto to tethers, sort of like a horse. In my case I can tip my head from side to side to steer the sit ski.” said Grace.
Grace continuous to say that instructor Allan Watson takes her on steep inclines and off jumps. “I am terrified but happy; it’s like scuba diving in powder!”
It didn’t take long to find volunteers for FIRE. People like Andy Cohen(FAR General Manager) and Jennifer Gross. FIRE has Grace as president, her mom Janice as secretary and Jennifer as treasurer. Grace says many helped but she needs to mention how Glenn Purdy donated his services to set up the society. Anita and Dave Brunker, Marilyn Baker, Diane Costerton, David and Nelda Caruthers all became involved.
It took ten instructors, plus two to set up equipment and banner maintenance on the sit-ski, plus five more volunteers to help out in other ways. “Rod Tim directed me to Andy Cohen, who was responsible for getting the Para-training facility in Kimberly. Gord Tim helped to raise 6000 dollars in two weeks with his connections in Calgary. Three sit skis were purchased. A green one name Samson, a red one named Maximus and a yellow one dubbed Ben Hur, I see a pattern here I comment”, says Grace, “they are all chariots”. The program runs Sundays from two to four pm. The program is for those with any type of disability, behavioural or physical all are welcome. ‘FAR is very generous and provides a cost that removes all barriers to fun and freedom, it is a positive atmosphere that shows individuals their ability in their disability’ Grace says.
She said Taiga Koffman from Lethbridge always wondered why he couldn’t go skiing with his dad and sister, she shows a photo of Taiga all smiles with happy parents by his side. She is now applying for a grant to get another sit-ski, one more adaptable for different needs that will cost nearly $6000 dollars. Through the Paralympic committee half will be paid so hopefully the grant will make up the rest.
Grace says, “In my black and white world colour has been added, in this world different doesn’t fit in but everyone wants to fit in, and now I understand there are no excuses, not limits, only our minds disable us. I am amazed at how the community rallied around with support, instructors are incredible people and the Free Press has supported me from the beginning and TECK donated too. I want to thank all the sponsors and encourage those who want to volunteer to come forward; it will change your life, Thanks to Jennifer and Andy for the amazing flood of ideas.
FIRE will have a website soon, in the meantime for more information you can contact this courageous young woman by calling Grace at 250 423 4488 or at firstname.lastname@example.org