The following article by Grade 12 student Natalie Andrews describes an activity that was part of Bow Valley High School’s Outdoor Leadership 30 course. The activity was also undertaken as part of the school’s AISI project, which centres on school culture and student wellness (academic, physical, social-emotional and mental).
—Tara Sly, English teacher and AISI lead (Cycle 4), Bow Valley High School, Cochrane
Elisa Neven-Pugh is an ambitious Grade 11 girl with whom I’m proud to share the hallways of Bow Valley High School (BVHS). The weekend of September 22, the Outdoor Leadership 30 class and other students invited Elisa to join them for a hike up Larch Valley, near Lake Louise.
No big deal, right? It’s just a hike and Elisa’s just another student. Why is that so special?
Elisa has cerebral palsy, a condition affecting muscle movement in all parts of the body. She is not able to walk on her own. At school, she travels the halls in her electric wheelchair. So for her, this was not just a hike.
Josie Neven-Pugh, Elisa’s sister, also participated in the hike and found the outing inspiring. “I was very flattered for my sister’s sake that they thought to do this. It wasn’t so much the fact that we were going hiking that made it so impressive; we are a hiking family. It was more so the fact of whom we were hiking with. To have fellow peers and teachers excited to get your sister up a mountain is inspiring!” she said.
John Davidson, BVHS social studies teacher and trip supervisor, was also impressed by the students. “To have a group of students take a Saturday off for this event is amazing, and it restores my faith in teenagers.”
Elisa brought her own chariot-style buggy that we, as a group, pushed, pulled, lifted and lowered on the trail. We covered four kilometres of semi-steep trail, gaining 500 metres in elevation.
“I pretty much don’t have to do anything,” commented Jay, Elisa’s dad, during the hike. “This is probably the only time [I’ll be] totally fine with four boys picking up my daughter,” he added, as a team of high school boys lifted Elisa through one of eleven switchbacks.
Throughout the hike, everyone took turns getting Elisa to the top. She was giggles and smiles for the majority of the journey.
The moment I’ll remember most was when Elisa and her dad walked together for the last hundred metres or so. He lifted her out of her chair and carried her to the footpath, where they started a sort of swaying walk as her dad assisted her in moving her legs. They made slow but steady progress to the crest of the hill. We stopped whatever we were doing and cheered and clapped.
That moment was powerful. To suddenly realize how much someone with a physical disability depends on other people is overwhelming. It made me value my own legs and, in hindsight, recognize how significant it is to do something for people like this every day.
Elisa is an active figure in our school and our community, and her contributions are a tribute to her outstanding character and personality; the fact that she doesn’t let her chair stop her is remarkable.
Elisa also made a point of thanking us “for taking time out of our short lives to help someone like [her] out, it really means a lot!”
Later in the week, Elisa commented: “What I will take away most from that day is the overwhelming sense of pride I felt for my school, as it truly showed what an accepting and determined crowd it has produced. Thank you for helping this Bobcat climb a mountain.”
This experience will likely never be forgotten by those who participated. It truly reveals the relationship-based, positive and inclusive culture that is a foundation of our school and part of programs such as outdoor leadership.
Being a BVHS Bobcat means creating meaningful memories, taking on new opportunities to grow and extending a hand to others. Being a Bobcat means building our learning community through activities that develop lasting relationships through amazing experiences wherever we can make them together.