Her daughter couldn’t enter the park in a wheelchair, so a Quebec mother suggested a solution
Andrée-Ann Madore’s face lit up on Tuesday as she finally returned to the paths she once trod a few years ago.
Before her accident, Madore, 23, was just like any other teenager who enjoyed running through the park, camping and sleeping under the stars near her hometown of Coaticook, Que. about 160 kilometers east of Montreal.
But in 2018, when she was 19, she lost control of her car, which ended up in a ditch.
“I never thought she would recover,” said Nathalie Thibeault, her mother. It took a long time, but in January 2020, Madore began to heal.
“You’ve never had a recovery like my daughter’s,” Thibeault said. “She can’t speak, but she can communicate.”
Thibeault arranged physical therapy sessions, specialists and 24-hour care, and says the past few years have made her realize how inaccessible people with limited mobility are – she couldn’t even take her daughter on the park trails.
“It’s only when you have a child with special needs, like Andrée-Ann, who can’t walk, that you realize there’s a lot of things you’d like to be able to do, but it’s not accessible,” Thibeault said.
In the fall of 2021, she called the Gorge Park office in Coaticook with the “crazy idea” that the park should get the necessary equipment to ensure the trails can be used by people with limited mobility.
Now this project is a reality.
From Saturday, people with different accessibility needs will have access to the park both in summer and winter, thanks to three new wheelchairs and the park’s work to adapt its paths and facilities.
Thibeault says she feels lucky to be able to stand up for her daughter. When the park responded positively, “I said to myself, ‘Yes, I worked towards this for Andrée-Anne, but I also did this for other people.'”
“What a gift”
Madore on Tuesday tried out a so-called seahorse, a wheelchair with three interchangeable wheels that allows locomotion on all sorts of surfaces – like snow, sand, gravel or even water.
Thibeault says it’s “beautiful to look at.”
“As she started walking through the forest, she looked everywhere with a big smile on her face. That has no price. When you see your kid light up… I said, ‘Gosh! Wow, what a gift,'” said Thibeault. “It allows us to live again and have that normality like everyone else.”
Thibeault says when she first called the local park office, she never expected a project this large.
“Perhaps [I expected] a seahorse wheelchair so we could walk around the trails, but they started a project that was unimaginable. I’m so grateful,” said Thibeault. “It’s about achieving normality in her life – in my daughter’s life – but also in the lives of other people.”
“The need was there”
Caroline Sage, chief executive of Gorge Park and Parc Découverte Nature, says it took over a year to raise funds for all the equipment.
After approaching the Eastern Townships Council for Sports and Recreation, the park acquired three wheelchairs: a TrackZ, a Dahut, and the Sea Horse.
“We know that wheelchairs have small wheels, so the surface has to be very, very solid for them to go outside,” Sage said.
The park’s trails have been rated by Kéroul, a disability rights organization.
According to Sage, the park is also working to make its buildings more accessible.
“The need was there,” Sage said. “We know that nature is good for us. We experienced that during the pandemic. It is morally good for us. So we have to make nature accessible.”
While thousands of dollars have been spent on equipment, she says another big investment has been taking the time to train staff.
“We had different vehicles, but do we know how to operate them? The type of mobility [to match with] the type of wheelchair? The kind of gear that needs to ride one trail and not another? That was the most complicated part,” Sage said.
She hopes other parks across Quebec will follow suit and give people the opportunity to engage with nature autonomously.
“This isn’t a money-making project, it’s about inclusion,” Sage said. “I am convinced that it will respond to a need. Even if it’s only 10 people who benefit,” said Sage.
“We saw it with Andrée-Ann. to see her face and smile…. Exactly [made me] say ‘okay, it’s all worth it.’”
Mother hopes the project can improve the daily lives of others
Thibeault will be at the park with her daughter for the official launch of the project on Saturday. She hopes this can positively change the lives of other families as it has for her.
“You could say it’s a rebirth… You have to live it to understand the freedom that gives us,” Thibeault said.
“If I can improve other people’s daily lives and help them get out of their house… If this can help them discover other things, put a smile on their face, get some fresh air… Go into the woods and to.” walking around and going with the family and reconnecting with nature, my god it’s wonderful.”