Gender Variant Youth Ski Day - A Tremendous Success
By Kristen Worley
With the initiative of many special people, the sport of water skiing and wakeboarding has continued to embrace inclusion, providing opportunities for Canadians of all walks of life to participate in the sport in a safe, welcoming and FUN way. This article represents one special success story. WSWC
Gender Variant Youth Ski Day A Tremendous Success
By Kristen Worley
The day began with anticipation and excitement and sheer determination to make this a day to remember. Participants were told in advance to be in Newmarket, Ontario for an 8am start. The morning was absolutely magnificent – sun shining with a warm, August air. As I drove into the laneway of the ever so beautiful Summerski, the lake was glass calm, so much so that it was difficult to separate the water from the shoreline.
The group in attendance was comprised of eight youth, all of whom are between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. The group was made up of six boys (born physically girls, presenting as boys) and two girls (born physically boys, presenting as girls), in conjunction with appointed guardians from the Central Toronto Youth Services (CTYS). CTYS is an organization designed essentially to assist with empowering youth and to improving life experience.
My goal in initiating such a venue, was to bring together a group of spirited transgendered youth and to provide them with a unique opportunity in a venue where they could feel safe to participate and be who they are. I actually had a waiting list of people who were interested in attending the one-day event, although due to time constraints and adequate ski time needed, I could not facilitate all who were interested.
The director of Summerski is a wonderful friend by the name of Paul Roberts. I have had the good fortune of knowing Paul for thirty odd years and he is tremendously well known in the ski community in Canada. Together with his family and support group, my group was met and greeted with smiles. It is with Paul’s support, together with the Rip n’ Ride program and my idea for such an implementation, that the day was made possible.
The participants were given some basic dry land and in-water training before each was given the opportunity to experience skiing first hand. Each participant was given a minimum of three runs – enough for a first day on the water. Participants chose between wakeboarding, skiing, and tubing. The excitement for me was to watch each of them meet and interact on a first-time meeting and to show support for one another. It was truly a brilliant experience to watch in the face of the magnitude of each of their life challenges. It brought the entire experience down to a grass roots level and one that has brought me great smiles.
It is my great feeling that many were moved by the experience, including both Paul and his family and support group. On more than one occasion, it was expressed that there had not been a day like it at the lake in some time. The day combined not only water and fun, but also education. Many left the venue having learned something new about what it means to transition or what it is like to live with a gender challenge.
Prior to the BBQ lunch, when fatigue was setting in and was apparent on all faces, I did a demonstration of barefoot waterskiing for the group. For many, it was not until lunch time that they knew of my own personal story and my experience with transition. Many just thought I was a coach named Kristen, but their faces lit up when I told them my life story. Essentially, the experience confirmed in their minds and spirits that they were normal and that it is ok to be who you are. I then told the group that today is a special day, for today is the first day that you know you can be anything you want to be and that you are “normal”.
I had hoped that some of the teens’ parents would also participate in the day, knowing well that gender dysphoria impacts the entire family unit both in part and together. Just knowing there are others out there just like you provides a much-needed sense of support and encouragement to continue on the journey. Many of the teens expressed that it was nice to have some time away from their families. Regardless, it is my hope that next time, some of the parents will join in our day.
All the teens were, in my mind, magnificent. To me, it brought about a great sense of accomplishment that I could do something so positive for some very special and much misunderstood individuals. Their gratitude was abundant and the smiles overwhelming. They touched my heart and I hope that I was able to touch theirs.
At the close of the day, the experience for all was so positive, many did not want to go home. I am eternally grateful to Paul and his support people for sharing both their time and energy and to Water Ski and Wakeboard Canada, for allowing me to create such a pilot project and to give gender varied youth a chance to participate in our great sport.
Each teen left the day with a certificate of achievement, a t-shirt and an individual photo of themselves – essentially, a memento of the day. Thanks to the Rip n’ Ride program, every one is made to feel a success. The pilot was such a success that many can’t wait for next year.
For me personally, the day was the highlight of my summer. I have spent great time and energy over the past two years working with Water Ski and Wakeboard Canada, International Water Ski Federation, Sport Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Commonwealth Games Canada, Canadian Centre of Ethics in Sport, Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine and AthletesCAN, together with the combined efforts of individual support from elite athletes both in and out of the sport of waterskiing to bring about increased awareness and a greater understanding for gender varied persons in mainstream sport.
Commonwealth Games Canada created the very first “positive space” program designed for elite athletes, coaches, managers and mission staff (Team Canada Members) which they successfully initiated this past year at the Melbourne Games, as a first of such a program in the mainstream sport system to address and support as an inclusion program for all who wish to participate at elite levels of sport. We hope this will set an example to the international sport community the needs and challenges, as well setting new standards and most importantly universal dialogue and working together internationally within sport, to ensure inclusiveness.
It is essentially because of my perseverance and determination that our Canadian sports leaders are seeking to play a leadership role in this much-needed area and to assist with future designs in sport policy and funding programs for how to play sport.
I look forward to next year for this was truly a moment worth remembering.
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