Here in Vancouver, we are about to release an AMI original documentary about the Do the Grind Blind challenge, where a group of blind and low vision youth and young adults completed one of Vancouver’s most challenging hiking trails up Grouse Mountain.
Considered by Vancouverites as a rite of passage, or at least a bucket list item, the Grouse Grind is a one-way trek up challenging terrain including narrow walkways, large, exposed tree roots, high and differently-shaped stairs, and more.
The idea for the challenge was spearheaded by a recreational therapist named Christina Duncan, and the group’s leader was Shawn Marsolais. Shawn, the Executive Director of Blind Beginnings, is a mother, former Paralympian, and non-profit director who happens to be blind. The goal of her organization, Blind Beginnings, is to empower children and youth who are blind or low vision to recognize their potential and learn the skills and confidence they need to achieve their dreams.
Since May, the Vancouver team has covered all of the training hikes the group has done, and we’ve witnessed some incredible transformations and stories that will be shared in the documentary. Each participant was paired up with a sighted guide, and everyone shared their hearts and souls with us.
Since I was covering this story, I also joined the group and participated in the training sessions before conquering the Grouse Grind myself. I’m in my late twenties and love to go for long walks, so I consider myself a reasonable hiker. Still, I have to admit that the commitment and experience took me out of my comfort zone and I learned a lot.
In a very Grant-like move, I showed up for the first training session with a ton of coffee, rather than water. In hindsight, not the smartest move on the planet, but hey, it was a Sunday morning so can you blame me? That first hike was tame, but it was a great reminder not to skimp out on nutrition in the morning – a bad habit of mine.
One very positive part of the experience was my own sighted guide, a great guy who is also in his twenties. It turns out we have a lot in common, and much of our time hiking was spent chatting. It’s a great opportunity to get to know someone, as you’re literally teammates and walking buddies at the same time.
Our videographer Sergio is a pro at mountain-climbing, and really hit the ground running with this special including coming up with some great ideas. For example, he came up with the idea of using hiking poles rather than traditional white canes during the Grind. These turned out to be a great way to get a feel of the trail ahead of me as one would do with a cane. They were also rigid enough to use for a little extra support, especially when finding a good place to step amidst roots and slippery terrain.
Speaking of equipment, I always disliked shopping for shoes, so much so that I wrote a poem about it as a kid. That means up until now I’ve owned exactly one pair of shoes, a rather worn pair that aren’t really suitable for anything at this point, let alone hiking. After putting it off for weeks, my colleagues ultimately dragged me to the shoe store to pick out a nice pair of hiking boots. They’re great and functioned well on the Grind, but more importantly I’m much more aware of the need to maintain my footwear, and be cognizant about whether it’s appropriate or even matches my outfit. It seems like a small thing, but I know it’s something others notice.
The Grind itself was very doable, but definitely the most challenging hike I’ve ever done. I didn’t really wear my competitive hat, but kept a pretty steady pace and finished the hike in about two hours. The atmosphere on top of the mountain was jubilant, with the group cheering each other on and celebrating each hiker’s achievement.
At the end of the day, the event was a real win/win for Blind Beginnings as it raised a huge amount of publicity and awareness about the abilities of people with vision loss. And for many of the participants, it was an empowering and life-changing experience.
Do the Grind Blind special originally aired on AMI-tv on Friday, October 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT and you can watch the full video below.