Jul 1, 2013 | Marmot, Summer 2013

Podium of Life assists an avid skier to compete, in Adaptive Sports AND able-bodied sking.

When Mel Pemble announced two years ago that she wanted to be a competitive ski racer, her mother Rachel wasn’t sure how to react. They were sitting in their home in England when Mel made her announcement.

The notion surprised Rachel for a couple of reasons. Mel had suffered a skiing accident and spent quite a time recovering from it. She is also afflicted with mild cerebral palsy, so her right side is slower than her left. “I’ve never stopped her aspirations in doing anything, really,” Rachel said from the family’s home in Victoria.

Within a couple of days, Mel had found a school in Canada where she could take classes in the morning and ski in the afternoon: Podium of Life at Mount Washington Alpine Resort, run by Shane and Corey Harle of Campbell River. “When I found (the school) on the Internet I thought it was really cool,” says Mel.

Mel learned to ski in France during a holiday. However, in 2007 she had an accident and badly twisted one of her knees. She re-learned the sport during a family Christmas holiday to Mount Washington Alpine Resort in 2010. It was there that ski instructor Dave Brown fueled her passion for the sport. “He was really good in taking little steps,” says Mel. It wasn’t until the Pembles returned to England that she decided she’d like to take up ski racing.

Mel has attended Podium of Life for two years now. “We threw ourselves into the first (year),” says Rachel. “We lived on the mountain for the whole season. Mel’s physical development snowballed. I like it because it’s a great opportunity to do what I actually enjoy, while I go to school,” says Mel. “I really love skiing so to have that in your curriculum…”

That first year she skied with the Vancouver Island Society for Adaptive Snowsports program at Mount Washington, and won a Gold Medal in her first race, a giant slalom at Mount Washington, as well as a Bronze. A month later she won two Bronze medals at a provincial competition at Cypress Mountain in Vancouver.

Last season her goal was to make the able-bodied ski team. With Podium of Life she was able to do more race training, and she also skied with the adaptive snowsports team again.

Mel made the Provincial Team for able-bodied skiing as well. She won several medals with the Adaptive Snowsports Team, and was invited to compete with the able-bodied team at the Whistler Cup. “I was overwhelmed with it at one point,” says Rachel. But she backed off of her own fears to allow Mel to pursue her dream.

“I’ve had my heart in my mouth all season,” says Rachel. “She’s skiing way better than anyone in our family now. She’s got determination, she’s got speed… she wants to go to the Olympics in 2018.”

Mel has also worked hard at her academic subjects at Podium of Life, through the eBlend program. Prior to attending the academy she didn’t like math, but she was challenged at Podium of Life to achieve some goals in that subject and she finished the entire math curriculum in four months.

Although Mel has completed her season with Podium of Life and has returned to school at Selkirk Montessori in Victoria, she plans on returning to the snowsports academy at Mount Washington next winter. And she has the full support of her parents, too. “I wish I’d have been allowed to follow my dream at her age,” Rachel said.

The Pembles are not unique in their confidence in Podium of Life. Aryn Smith–Avendano’s son–enrolled in the academy earlier this spring. “The impact that the teacher, Shane Harle, has had on my son is amazing,” she said.

“My son actually feels engaged in school and doesn’t see it as a burden to learn. He spends the morning doing his academics and then spends the afternoon working on his leadership and personal development through skiing.

In one week my son can actually see the potential that he has and feels that it is attainable. That is worth more than anything for a parent to see the light in their child’s eyes.”

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