BC Ambassadors

"I cannot thank you enough for coming in and telling your incredible story. My kids were ecstatic about your visit. They talked about you all day today and made connections to you from an article they read. You opened the eyes of both my students and myself. You are truly an amazing person and I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to hear your inspiring story. I want you to know that your school visits make a difference in children's lives. You have given them a story and life lesson about strength and determination that they will never forget."

Leanne Bemister, Teacher, Marlborough Elementary School
Our BC Ambassadors are involved in our communities representing the Rick Hansen Foundation Ambassador Program. They are delivering keynote presentations to schools all across the lower mainland.

Arnold Cheng

Photo of Arnold
Arnold was a student at UBC and was finishing up his final year. He was not an adventurous person, so he surprised himself when he decided to accept a teaching position in South Korea. He didn’t know the country or its culture at all; he had to adjust to a new way of life very quickly.

One fateful day Arnold woke up in agony. It turned out that while he was sleeping, something happened in his body. There is a layer that surrounds the spinal cord, making sure it’s well protected. Somehow, during the night, it had died off, leaving him paralyzed from his waist down. Nobody knew what happened or what caused it. It just happened.

Moving from Vancouver to Korea and back again had taught him something extremely important – how to adjust to new situations. Despite being paralyzed, he saw life in a wheelchair as just another adjustment – a tougher one than usual. When he was recovering, he was scared, and he tended to make jokes when he was scared. That dry wit went into his blogs, and his friends started to notice that his blogs gave a realistic but sometimes hilarious insight about life in a wheelchair. So they asked him: why not get involved in organizations dealing with disabilities? This led him to do things he never expected to do – become an avid wheelchair basketball player, work with disability organizations, and even go bungee jumping from his wheelchair. This was a new Arnold.

Chris Somerville

Chris was pursuing a career as a successful and competitive skateboarder and dreamed about becoming a professional one day.  One day he got a ride home with someone he didn’t know. The driver turned too tight and hit a curb. The RCMP tried to pull the car over, but the driver panicked, lost control of his car and crashed into a wall.

Chris’s dream of becoming a pro skateboarder was over. He spent many months in the hospital recovering from the accident that left him a paraplegic. Since then, Chris’s passion for skateboarding has driven him to become a successful business owner of Street Dreamz Boardshop located in Delta BC. Now, ten years after the accident, his life is back on track and he spends some of his time rolling around in his wheelchair at skate parks, enjoying just being a part of the community.  Chris lives with his fiancé and two bulldogs.

Click here to learn more about Chris and watch a "Day in the life" video!

Donald Danbrook

Don enjoyed working outdoors and with his hands, and his affiliation with the Boilermakers Union Hall in Burnaby. He liked to ski in the winter and in the summer he spent as much time as possible on the beach or in the park, swimming and throwing around a baseball or Frisbee.

After spending a sunny day at the beach, Don found himself locked out of his house. He made a poor decision and fell six feet from a balcony, landing on his head. Don spent about three weeks on a ventilator in an intensive care unit, and after two incidents of cardiac arrest, his mother was told he would not live. Once stabilized and weaned off the ventilator, he went through surgery and set off down a path of successful rehabilitation that as it turned out would span decades.

Don’s journey involved returning to the workforce after eight years of retraining and rehabilitation, only to be cruelly re-injured and having to start again. Since then, Don has developed his next career in real estate sales, marketing and commercial appraisal.

Eddy Morten

Eddy Morten was born deaf with good vision until he was eight years old, when his retina detached in his left eye. He had surgery to repair and reconnect the retina, but after that he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) in his right eye. Deafness and RP is called Usher Syndrome.

Sports were a key part of Eddy’s life and he competed nationally and internationally. A three-time Paralympian, he won medals in 1980, 1984, and 1988.

Eddy is Project Coordinator at the Quest Food Exchange. He lives with his guide dog Hope, an eight-year old black Lab.  He likes cooking, reading internet news & sports, John Grisham & Clive Cussler novels.  He enjoys walks and visiting his family, including his two sons. He is a big Canucks and Lions fan.

Iris Thompson

Iris was a stay-at-home mom, with two young daughters. She was engaged in her children’s lives and was involved in her community, volunteering as a peer counsellor at the CNIB, and volunteering at the crisis line. Iris enjoyed hiking with her husband, biking, and reading.

Iris was diagnosed in childhood with a chronic eye condition, which entailed daily drops.  Many eye surgeries and treatments over the course of time damaged her vision, which began to fluctuate from being clear to quite blurry overnight. At the age of 35, Iris lost all her vision as a result of a vascular tumour on the back of her retina.

Iris has learned many skills over the past few years to successfully manage many of her daily tasks independently. She can take her children to school, manage the household, and stays involved in her community. Iris is also planning on furthering her education, to help her seek employment.

James Willetts

James had just successfully accomplished his dream of becoming a truck driver and had just been married. He picked up a load of lumber and was slowly approaching a corner on a steep mountain road, when the truck abruptly flipped on its side and crashed into the mountain. Little did he know they had stacked the lumber too high inside the trailer.

James was in the hospital for eight months. He felt that life was over, until a fellow quadriplegic told him, “We can do anything we want, we just have obstacles to overcome.”

James eventually overcame the obstacles that he first felt were insurmountable. He has created work by starting a gliding program with BCMOS and is a strong advocate for accessibility and inclusiveness.

Jessica Kruger

Before her accident, Jessica was an active 14-year-old girl. She played basketball, softball and cheer led. She always dreamed of a profession where she could help people and/or animals—a veterinarian or a psychologist. 

Jessica was working for a small painting company and found herself two stories up on a ladder when she fainted and fell to the ground, becoming a quadriplegic. In rehab, she dealt with the frustrations of living in a wheelchair, but soon realised that people in wheelchairs could do all the same things as someone able-bodied, just in a different way.

Jessica is now a 4th year student at Simon Fraser University, a speaker for Worksafe BC, an avid baker, cake decorator, and wheelchair rugby player.  As of this year, Jessica is the model for Lise Watier’s perfume, “Something Sweet”.

Click here to learn more about Jessica and watch a "Day in the life" video!

Kirsten Sharp

Kirsten was only 14 years old and at high school when she had her accident. While skiing at Whistler Mountain, Kirsten veered to the left of a run, and hit a man-made jump. She landed in a tree well. The impact of hitting the tree, or perhaps hitting the ground, severed Kirsten’s spine at a very high level, leaving her a paraplegic.

The accident didn't change Kirsten. It just helped her to become the vibrant woman she is today. Her attitude and outlook on life have always been positive, and she can count on her friends and family to help with any challenge. After the accident, she knew she still had many options open to her; the day after leaving rehab, she went back school, leaving no time to dwell on the past.

Kirsten went on to university and earned a joint major degree in business and psychology. She also holds a diploma in media in television production. After working in the animation and film industry as a producer for nine years, she now works with her psychology degree and has become a Peer Support Specialist for Spinal Cord Injury BC. She also competes in tennis, swims, rows, bikes and in her words “does whatever is available to try!”

Kristy Tymos

At 18, Kristy travelled through Asia for six months before enrolling in college in Nanaimo, BC. On weekends, she loved driving around Vancouver Island, playing in the ocean or camping while spending time with friends and family.

After one of Kristy’s weekend adventures in Courtenay, she was driving home to Nanaimo. On that dark winter night, she fell asleep behind the wheel and crashed, sustaining a spinal cord injury.

Having graduated with her Bachelor of Arts, Kristy now studies law at the University of British Columbia. She still manages to stumble upon enviable adventures, like adapted alpine skiing and scuba diving with sharks.

Leanor Vlug

When she was ten, Leanor’s life changed enormously after becoming Deaf from a reaction to medication. Not being able to hear or join in family conversations was very limiting and frustrating. Because so much knowledge comes from being able to hear others talking and sharing what they know, deaf children can easily become isolated and socially undeveloped.

Leanor’s world expanded when she started meeting other Deaf and hardof hearing youths and adults.  She went to Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C. There she found her life-mate and moved to Vancouver, raised their two hearing daughters, earned a Master’s in Adult Education, and became part of a vibrant Deaf community.

Leanor retired in 2013 after 25 years teaching Deaf and hard of hearing adults at Vancouver Community College.  Currently she is a program development consultant and volunteers for a number of groups.  She enjoys reading, using social media, and “hanging out” with her Deaf husband, Henry, and their daughters and families.  

Marika Van Dommelen

Marika was born with Spina Bifida. Her family always believed that she was capable of living a very full life, although at times they felt a need to shelter her from life’s disappointments. Marika had a very strong fortitude and never shied away from taking chances, believing she could reach the many goals in life that she set herself.

Of all her accomplishments, Marika is most proud of being a wife and mother (her son, Ben, is now a teenager). As an ex-athlete, Marika tries to stay in shape either by wheeling or cycling. She enjoys expressing her creativity through photography and is a published photographer. Marika is very excited about her new career path as a personal life coach.

Robb Dunfield

Robb was a very independent and active young man before he was severely injured in a fall from a 3rd story balcony. He received a very high level spinal cord injury. As a result, he was unable to move or feel from his neck down and became ventilator dependant 24 hours a day.

Doctors felt that Robb would have no real opportunity to rehabilitate, so he was warehoused at an institution for seven years. Eventually, Robb and five other individuals with similar injuries joined together and developed the world’s first independent living group home for persons with high level spinal cord injuries. Robb lived in this home for six years, meeting Sarah, one of the nursing staff. After Robb and Sarah married, Sarah left her position and the two moved into their first home.

Robb and Sarah were blessed with twin girls, Emma and Sophia, who are now 16 years of age. The family lives in White Rock and Robb enjoys working for the Rick Hansen Foundation as the Senior Coordinator of the Rick Hansen Ambassador Program. 

Click here to learn more about Robb and watch a "Day in the Life" video!

Stan Leyenhorst

Stan came from a large extended farming family that was very active in the church community. One summer night in 1977, Stan was swimming at a friend’s pool and took a dive into the water. He hit his head on the bottom of the pool and instantly severed his spinal cord. Some of his friends were able to pull Stan out of the water and he spent the next ten months in rehabilitation, working hard on gaining back his strength and health but still destined for life in a wheelchair.

Doctors told Stan that he would live a very short life of five years, including a significant amount of pain and suffering. Living as a high level quadriplegic many decades ago had a very different prognosis. Fortunately, Stan was able to beat those odds and 35 years later he lives a healthy and happy life. 

Stan attended college and university. He has found happiness with a wonderful wife and resides in a beautiful home that has been adapted to his needs. Stan is very involved in church and community life, works full time, has a number of hobbies and continues to pursue new paths.

Teri Thorson

Teri worked in the software industry, was a professional dancer and fashion model. With many friends and a love of travel, she liked to live life to the fullest no matter what. On her first international vacation to Australia, she got into a car as a passenger and drove to the beach. On the way there, they hit an unmarked hairpin turn on a gravel road. The car rolled end to end three times. The accident left Teri a quadriplegic.

After spending two months in a rehab hospital in Australia and another nine months in Vancouver, Teri tried to get back to the “normal” life she had before the crash. She worked hard at becoming independent and fitting back into the societal mould. Teri has had many successes in her life since the car crash. She has had fulfilling careers as a Paralympic athlete and an aspiring entrepreneur, and as a stay-at-home mom.

Click here to learn more about Teri and watch a "Day in the life" video!