May 29, 2019

Going forward backwards - A rowing adventure

I've been fairly quiet (here on the blog, at least) about something that has been occupying A LOT of my time in the last eight months. 

Despite my life-long passion and love for kayaking, in all its bow-facing (err, forward facing, for you land lubbers) magnificence, I've recently started going backward in a rowing shell. 
Pretty proud, and feeling very fortunate, to
'Rep the Leaf' for Rowing Canada

And I've recently had the opportunity to represent Canada to do it, too, at the 2019 FISA International Para Rowing Regatta in Gavirate, Italy!

This is somewhat of a surprise, given that as recently as: 
  • Seven weeks ago, I’d never been in a pairs rowing shell, and that's what I was going to have to race!
  • 17 weeks ago, I’d never been in a rowing shell, of any sort, period.
  • Eight months ago, I hadn’t even approached anyone at Rowing Canada about their para program.

The super strong young guy doing all the work in the boat
is named James. He's my pairs partner! 
All in all, the timelines to go from nothing to representing Canada appear pretty short. And I suppose in many ways they are. But the truth is, I’ve had my eye on a moment like this for around seven years, having spent many hopeful seasons gearing up for canoe/kayak, only to have upper limb classifications slowly but surely stripped out of the para disciplines of that sport. I was never able to make a leap to international competition. Hence, a switch to rowing. I feel I still have some high-performance effort to give, and this time, the only thing that will dictate how far I go is how much effort I am willing and able to put into it, rather than a board/executive decision to axe my classification from the competition. 

So, in summary, I've decided to look backward to go forward. 

I’m tall, and I’ve always been involved in sport, which means I’ve spent a lifetime of being told I should try rowing. Still being a little obsessed with boats, I decided to cold-call Rowing Canada, as the summer of 2018 came to a close, to inquire about para-rowing.

The timing was good.

They were hoping to identify a potential crew member to pair with a big, young guy in Ontario named James, who himself had only taken up rowing at the start of 2018. He was tall, like me, And enthusiastic, like me. Oh, and he’s mostly blind. If pieces fell into place fast enough, perhaps we could be ready to race together in the spring of 2019.

I won’t bore you with the details of everything that went on to turn this kayaker into a potential rower in the space of eight months. It did involve a lot of time at the gym, though, to develop some decent leg muscles for the first time in my life, and yet more time sitting on a rowing erg, building up stamina and working on technique from the safety of dry land. 

One thing I was always resistant to with the thought of rowing, was the exceptionally regimented learning curve. Start with an eight-person crew boat. Learn the terms, understand the processes, row in that crew as a beginner for a time. Then, if you’ve proved your worth, progress to a quad or a four. Develop more skill there, and then perhaps move into a double. Hit the elite level, and row in a single.

Yeah, I didn’t have time for any of that.

I have a slight 'rowing hands' problem at the moment' 
I literally rowed three times in a coxed fours boat (four rowers, one oar each, and a fith person, the coxswain, sitting in the boat guiding the way and calling out commands) before shipping off to Victoria for a week-long para training integration camp with Rowing Canada para athletes. There, I met the current team and my prospective future partner, James, as well. Still, fours was the name of the game. Fair enough. It was icy February water, and balance was still a small issue. 

It still took until late March to get me into a pairs boat (two people, one oar each, no coxswain), and it was a shaky, steep learning curve. What's more, everyone I've met that knows anything about rowing whatsoever always says the same thing: "OH. Pairs. that's the hardest boat to row!"

THANKS for the info! 

Prior to our departure for Italy, James and I were only in a pairs boat together across the space of three days. Arriving in Italy, we had five more days to train together before spending a couple of days racing. 
I will say this: the outcomes of the racing were not the main point of this trip. International classifications take place at this regatta, and so both James and I had to go through our own classification processes to be cleared for international competition in the PR3 class. 
That was the driving factor behind attending this particular competition. With that checked off the list, it was time to race. 
The week in Italy and the racing marked MANY firsts for me: 
  • First time rowing on an actual 2000m course 
  • First time racing a rowing shell, period. 
  • First time racing in--at times--VERY challenging wind conditions
  • First time wearing the maple leaf! 

The 'Spirito de Lago  / Spirit of the Lake' watched over  the
racing venue (you'll see more of her in the videos linked below) 
Dealing with the wind was exceptionally challenging for me, steering a boat that I'm still very much learning to row, with an incredibly strong partner in James, and trying to match his ability. But it was a great experience, and I'm looking forward to more (except for the punishment my nubile rowing hands are experiencing. I am slowly but surely building up some good callouses, but I have suffered to get to this point). 

It's by no means a clear shot to the Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020, which is the longview on this whole rowing experiment. The one and only boat I would qualify to race in is a 'PR3 Mix 4'... two men, two women. There are two other PR3 men racing in a pair and both have deep experience, so there are four of us guys competing for two seats, and one alternate slot. The point is, of course, to put together the fastest boat for Canada. It's not all about me, at all. 

Anyway, that's the stretch goal. for now, I'm just keeping up the training, gaining more time on the water, and enjoying the new experiences. 

It was my first time in Italy, ever, and you can be damn sure I ate
alllll the pizza and pasta and drank the coffee. 
For some of you who follow my YouTube channel already, you may have caught a few episodes of my trip diary. For the rest of you, here's the whole playlist! I did one video each day in Italia, and it will give you a sense of what we got up to while we were there! 

To all those who have offered their wishes of Good Luck to me, I thank you. Your support is greatly appreciated! There's a lot of work ahead and it's still unclear how the chips will fall, so stay tuned! 

April 17, 2019

Remembering Margie

At five feet two inches tall, you might miss Margaret ‘Margie’ Kay Smith-Wingert if you passed her on the street. With her with size six shoes and a slow, only-slightly-steady walk, you might see that diminutive woman and pass her off as meek and mild.

She was anything but.

Margie, aged two 
Margie at St. Anthony'; her first communion. 
As a three-year-old, Margie, born in small-town Iowa, lost her mom. She and her older siblings were under the sole care of their father, but in time, they were all given up to live at Saint Anthony's Orphanage, Sioux City, Iowa.  Margie and her siblings lived there for a few years, and some of Margie’s earliest memories were of the nuns, and the communal bedrooms. Margie and her siblings were all adopted to different families, without decent records of who went where. Imagine being a young child, set adrift into middle America with a new family.

Life over the years after that was not always kind or easy for Margie, but through it all, she maintained her faith in God, and an optimism about life that can only be described as admirable. Margie loved to laugh, and with a big voice and traces of her mid-western accent, there was no mistaking Margie when Margie was talking. 

Margie thrived against some of the odds she faced. Various work roles found her bouncing around a bit in her younger years--Denver, Portland, and Seattle were among her stops.  It was there in Seattle, Washington, in the early 80’s, that Margie applied for a nannying job for a doctor’s daughter. That doctor was my future mother-in-law, and she needed someone to take care of my future wife, Kate, age four at the time. My mother-in-law reflected recently on the phone interview she had with Margie, saying she was head-and-shoulders the best applicant she had. A face-to-face interview firmed up the deal, and that was that. 

So began a life-long relationship with Margie.

Margie and Kate

Margie moved to Canada with my wife’s family after a few years in Seattle, and continued working, helping to raise Kate until Kate was 10 years old. She came to them a stranger, but left as one of the family. She also gained her Canadian citizenship along the way. Canada was Margie's new homeland. 

Margie, unfortunately, began to suffer from trigeminal neuralgia. A surgery attempt to solve the problem only made it worse. Margie would be on opioid pain medications for the rest of her life. That made matters difficult as the pain and medication made it impossible for Margie to do meaningful work, and prolonged medication use led to all sorts of other side effects. She had the shakes, suffered from painful kidney stones, detached retinas (she went blind in one eye in recent years), and more. Over the years her intersections with the health system were many. There, too, she wasn't always noticed. She had a few close calls for being sent home when there was a real problem that got dismissed. Given all her medication use for her neuralgia, one could easily dismiss her as a confused addict. But, her determination and optimism kept her going.

Over the years, Margie had managed to reconnect with her siblings, all of whom lived in the U.S.. Their upbringings were all pretty different, based on the families they were adopted into. Margie was thankful to have their connections. Between her Smith clan and her Wingert clan, it expanded her world to be able to include in-laws, nieces and nephews. She was able to travel now and again to visit them, and the advent of Skype and facetime calling kept her in regular touch.


I first met Margie when I was 17, maybe 18 years old. Margie was still very much in Kate’s life. Living in Surrey next to Vancouver, she’d come out for the occasional supper or family celebration, like our wedding, and for birthday dinners. She would fawn over our kids, bringing them little trinkets or stuffed animals every time she visited. 

"Aunty Margie" with Sacha and Heidi in 2015.
Heidi still wears that dress, which Margie gave her.

To them, she was their aunty Margie. Heidi, my daughter, was a particular benefactor of Margie’s collections of bracelets, costume jewellery, little dresses, dolls and stuffies.  Margie didn’t have much money, but she was always such a giver. Not just of things, but of her time and her warm spirit.
Margie would talk a lot about her church—she was a faithful Catholic—and about singing in the choir, one of her absolute loves in life.

Margie was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2018. As the cancer progressed, it was the loss of her singing voice she lamented about most often, never mind the tumours all over her body, especially that one late in the game which threatened to shatter her femoral head inside her hip joint. No, Margie didn't complain much about that. She missed her singing voice. 

In the fall of 2018, no longer able to live in an unsupported place, she came home. Home to Kate’s mum’s house, where she’d spent all those years taking care of Kate as a little girl.
One more Christmas Tree for Margie
Home to some of the extended family she’d made for herself. Her sisters came up to visit at different times, and friends came calling as well. Some time passed, and we brought her faux Christmas tree over. Our kids helped her decorate it, old Christmas favourites playing on the iPad as Margie reminisced about Christmas' past. 

When the time came that she could no longer be supported in the house, she spent a few weeks at the Vancouver General Hospital palliative care ward. There was a hummingbird nested in a tree just outside her window. In First Nations culture, the hummingbird is seen as a healer and a bringer of love, good luck and joy. Margie loved that she had one nearby, and saw it as a positive sign.

A few weeks on, a hospice bed was found for Margie. There, too, Hummingbirds came to feed just outside her window. She decided that maybe those little birds were some of her guardian angels. Margie was an animal lover. She talked in her final weeks how she hoped heaven had a doggy daycare where she could tend to some puppies for her eternity. 

During her weeks in hospice, she had lots of pastoral care visits, visits from friends, one of her sisters came to stay with her for a long stretch, and we visited, too, of course. 

It was there, at St. John hospice on the grounds of the University of British Columbia, her journey ended. She passed peacefully, surrounded by some of that chosen family: Kate’s hand, which Margie had held so many times before, was there to hold Margie’s as she took her final breaths. There’s something about that which just seems so right to me.

Today we’re all thankful that Margie chose to answer the ‘help wanted’ ad for a nanny job, and we know that Margie’s been delivered into the hands of her loving God in whom she placed all her faith and devotion, and that she is reunited with the mother she lost so long ago, and that she is feeling no pain. During her funeral mass, Father Paul Smith noted that there are many roads in life. On Margie's road, there were a lot of potholes, but that doesn't mean she didn't experience a full, rich life, full of love and laughter despite some of her odds. 

Before her time was up, Margie wrote many of us letters, which we all received this week. In her shaky hand, she wrote to those she held dear. I was lucky enough to be on her list. I’m not going to share precisely what she had to say, but I will paraphrase this piece:  she promised that once she got to heaven, she’d make sure to say hi to my mom and dad for me, and to tell them 'thanks' for the way they raised me.

But that was just Margie. Giving a million times more than she ever got, I think. 

No doubt the pearly gates were flung wide open for you this week, Margie, and you strode through with big-hair-don't-care-attitude, singing praise that you've finally arrived at your Forever Home. God's noticed you all along, Margie, and he's glad you're around to liven up the place. 

You will be missed, “Aunty Margie”. We love you lots.


December 21, 2018

Chase family Christmas Letter 2018

Happy holidays!

2018 is drawing to a close. It’s been a busy one (as the years all, always, seem to be) but life is good.
We were fortunate to be able to travel quite a bit this year. Kate and I kicked off 2018 with a short but memorable January getaway to New York City, then as a family we were able to enjoy a weekend in San Francisco come the spring. In the summer, we had a full two weeks in the U.K. to visit family and friends and see some of Kate’s old haunts from her days in Oxford as well. We know how privileged we are to be able to afford to do that much travel inside one year, and we don’t take that for granted.

Weekends were made for fun, and we had lots of that in the last year, too. Last winter, the kids conquered their first-ever double-black diamond ski run (as did I… old hat for Kate, though). We all had ski passes last season, so we got in a fair bit of action on the slopes!  Soccer Saturdays kept Sacha busy in the winter and fall of this year, and field hockey kept Sacha and Heidi both entertained in the springtime. Pepper in some basketball lessons for Heidi, swimming lessons here and there and just the usual running around, and it adds up to two healthy, active kids!

With Sacha and Heidi in grades five and three respectively, the kids aren’t so little anymore, taking themselves to school, doing homework, and assuming leadership roles in their schools. It’s awesome to see them grow. They both have their preferences in which subjects they adore and abhor, as did we all as kids, I suppose! At any rate, both kids are proving apt pupils and we’re proud of their efforts. They're also out there trying all sorts of activities: in the last year there has been soccer, basketball, field hockey, more soccer... the list goes on! 

I paddled a lot less than usual this past summer on the heels of all the declassification stuff for upper limb impaired paddlers, but I did squeak in a couple of regattas. I continue to represent as the chair of the Canoe Kayak Canada para committee, and I serve on the executive for my home club at False Creek. It remains to be seen how much paddling I will do in 2019, primarily because I’m trying my hand at para-rowing at the moment! To be more accurate, I’m classified, I’m strength training, and I’m doing rowing erg workouts… but I have yet to actually get in a rowing shell! Living in the mild south coastal region, this is a possibility for the winter months ahead—we shall see! It’s a fun new challenge in any case, and is keeping me fit. On the work front, it’s busy, but my life at Make-A-Wish continues to satisfy on a deep level. I could go on about that, but I want to keep this letter to a reasonable length, so I’ll just link to this video I made of one of our wishes. It should speak well enough to why I love my work.

Kate has had a—you guessed it—busy year with her work. Nurture Learning and Development provides a unique service delivery model for families with kids with special needs, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that her clinic is serving more families just here in the Vancouver area than some clinics delivering similar models are delivering in entire countries. Kate divides her time between delivering therapy and managing the administration tasks that come with being a principal in one’s own firm. This year she’s also handled teaching some courses at UBC’s school of speech and audiology, as well as served on the board for Speech and Hearing BC. She. Is. Busy… but still finds the time to play! She’s the leader on the ski hill, make no mistake about that. She’s also enjoying her road bike where she can, and has, been running up a storm this summer and fall.

As we gear down for the holidays, we hope you have a chance to be… less busy… for a few days, and enjoy time with family or friends. Many blessings to all of you! Merry Christmas from the Chase family! Without further ado, here is our 2018 family video Christmas card! Enjoy!

October 2, 2018

Thirty nine and feeling fine

Heidi made me a birthday crown! 
Thanks to a part of the extended family who uses a highlights / lowlights format to review each year on their birthday, and my exposure to that format many, many times, I’m now in the habit of compartmentalizing my year into these two categories. One always starts with the lowlights so that you can end off your annual review with the highlights.

In that spirit, let’s begin, shall we?

To be honest, there aren’t that many major lowlights to talk about. I feel, generally, that I get to lead a charmed life and I’ve very little to complain about. 

One disappointment from the past year relates to canoe-kayak, and the removal of upper limb impairment from the para classifications. It boggles my mind—along with the minds of anyone to whom I explain—that paddlers who cannot hold a paddle without some sort of apparatus or prosthetic… cannot paddle as para athletes. 

So, the racing season was low-key; I didn’t train much on the water and watched from afar as lots of other para paddlers had great racing opportunities. Argh. But, I won’t spend all my time waiting for that second chance. I AM trying to keep discussions going that might, somewhere down the road, see the reintroduction of the classification but I’m not spending too much mental energy on it on a daily basis!

Aside from that, I feel as though the lowlight things that happened in the last 12 months were about other people: The C word continues to strike people close to us. Friends and family, young and more elderly, have had to face the realities of living with, and fighting against, cancer. Without so much as blinking, I can name people ages seven through 70 that are fighting a good fight right now. Pray for them, please!

Edyn’s passing was another lowlight of this year. If you read my blog from earlier this year, you know how I felt about that. I still think of her most days, and I hope she’s resting in comfort.

So that’s my list of lowlights.  

I turn now to the highlights. Let’s start with the job.

It’s awesome. Working at Make-A-Wish has been so rewarding. I get to use the skills in my basket, and do so in a place that I feel is doing some good for this world. Donate here, and know that your money is being spent wisely for a good cause (that’s not a solicitation for donations, by the way. Or IS it?! :P)

Next, the kids. There are moments of frustration and sheer annoyance in any parent’s life, but pound for pound, nothing outweighs the joy I feel in just watching these kids ‘be’. They are rapidly gaining their independence, they have favourite school subjects, friends, activities, and they have great personalities. Whether Heidi is skipping along a sidewalk, traversing monkey bars, skiing, playing basketball or riding a scooter, the happiness I see in her when she is in a state of movement and freedom is really special to witness. Much the same with Sacha. The name of his game is soccer, and he loves to play! He’s on a great team this Fall with a bunch of kids who seem well matched in their abilities, and they seem like a group of engaged, interesting people unto themselves. It’s fun to watch Sacha operate in this peer group.
As a family, one of the highlights of the year was definitely a summer vacation trip to England. (PS I’m about to release a whole series of videos about the trip, so troll on over to my YouTube Channel to catch some highlights of those adventures!). We had two weeks to explore! It was the kid’s first time to the UK. It was nice to know they are old enough now that they will remember this trip really well (money well spent!). We had good times connecting with family and friends over there, as well as exploring on our own, too. Sacha, in particular, is enamoured of airplanes these days, so a nine-hour trans-Atlantic flight suited him just fine (aboard a Dreamliner, no less, a first for all of us!).

As always, watching anything my wife does is a highlight. The way she carries herself in this world is a model for all humankind. An intelligence and thoughtfulness that extends through parenting, career and family life make me feel very blessed to be married to her. I’m a lucky guy : )  

On that note, I’ll end it here. As my thirties start to fade into the sunset, I feel as though life is at its best. There will be no 40th/mid-life crisis here, folks. I’m where I should be, and I love my life. Here’s to more of that : )

June 22, 2018

Being ten years old

I remember my 10th birthday. I remember it like little else from when I was younger. I don’t precisely know why this is. it definitely stands out in my mind, from all other adolescent birthdays, from most memories of my youngest years in general. My memories from being a little kid are often fairly spotty. Even if I see myself in a photo from, say, my eighth birthday party, or a family camping trip when I was seven, there’s no memory that is jogged by it. I remember nothing—nothing—at all about kindergarten, other than the names of the three teachers I had that year.

But the 10th birthday sticks out for me. Maybe it was all the talk of ‘double digits’—that short period of time in our life when we have only one number to our years, now in the past. I remember both my mom and dad talking about what a milestone it was to be 10 years old; some coming-of-age time of life, even though it’s really not. I remember holding the birthday cards in my hands, colourful, with text loudly pronouncing ‘YOU’RE 10!’ I had a hot air balloon cake that year, with blue icing, shredded coconut, and licorice whips for the ropes between the balloon and the basket.

Like I say, I don’t know what this birthday sticks out in my mind. But today, my own son turns ten. And I’m sure it will stick out in my mind forevermore.

A decade is a long time.

It was a long time ago that this small little human was born, very suddenly, on our bathroom floor, three weeks ahead of his projected due date. Born on the summer solstice during a period of pleasantly warm weather, we took him to the beach when he was four days old, this 6 lb 7 oz baby, swaddled in close to his mother’s chest.

A decade is a long time.

And here, today, this same human with the same chestnut-coloured hair that he was born with, will scoot, walk or ride himself off to school, perhaps where he will be feted by his classmates. He’ll learn long division, do a unit in the computer lab, charge around at lunch playing soccer or basketball or just goof around with friends. Before all that, he’ll probably ask for an egg for breakfast, and then another, which he’ll hungrily slurp down along with fruit and bread and a glass of milk. And on the weekend, he’ll have his party where we’ll play laser tag and talk about hockey and soccer and have cake and sing happy birthday.

Maybe it will all stand out to him like it did for me when I was his age. Maybe there is some understanding that those single digit years are behind you, and the road to triple digits is long, and unachievable to most. A life of double digits, therefore, awaits. But that’s too big a thought for 10-year-old, isn’t it?

And now I pause and think again of that little baby boy. And I reflect on all the milestones in these first ten years, the uniqueness of the character that is growing up before my eyes, and I set my sights on what his next ten years will look like. But I don’t actually want to look ahead too soon. Because as I think about it now—about these last ten years—they actually happened really fast. 

In fact, I’m wondering, just now, where they went. 

How did we go from diapers and midnight feedings to hockey card collections, Saturday soccer games and skiing black diamond runs? How did it go from mushy peas and carrots, to a love of sushi, top 40 music and a mind for mathematics?

I guess, perhaps, it just boils down to this nice, round number. It’s easy to package up a decade in retrospect; so much cleaner than a seven-year review, or eight or nine. Ten. It has a certain ring to it, just like my parents told me it did.

That’s just about enough philosophizing on the importance of a 10th birthday. I’m glad for every day we’ve been given with him. He was the best thing to happen to 2008, and ten years later, we have a smart, funny, kind, interesting kid on our hands, and there’s nowhere to go but up. I don’t know if he’ll look back at his own 10th birthday, 30 years from now, and think ‘huh, that was something special’. But trust me, it IS special. HE is special, and THAT is what makes it special.
Happy 10th, buddy. Love you.

ps - perhaps he'll remember his LAZER TAG party! (watch it larger on YouTube: 

3,650 days ago.