The letter that came to his Lumby home in November left Logan Leach confused. Excited, but confused.
It was a letter inviting the visually impaired Charles Bloom Secondary School Grade 11 student to compete for the province in Para-Alpine Skiing at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer.
Leach, 16, a member of the Vernon Ski Club, had no idea anybody had been watching him ski that close.
“It was weird, totally unexpected,” said Leach, whose sport will be featured during the second week of the Games. He leaves for Red Deer Feb. 23. “I think I mentioned it (the Games) the previous year but had done nothing to really get there. I thought this was maybe something in the future I could but it never went further than that. Then I got the letter which was cool, exciting, weird, odd.”
Leach’s parents, Mike and Kim, believe their son’s taking part in camps throughout B.C. and Alberta got him noticed.
“He skis a lot with coaches from B.C. Alpine so we think a lot of it comes through them. People have seen him ski and someone in that line or whatever noticed the talent and got him to here,” said Mike, who drives his son from the village to SilverStar Mountain Resort every Saturday and Sunday, with Logan rising at 5:30 a.m. each day.
Fannie Smith is the interim executive director of B.C. Adaptive Snowsports of which Leach is an indentified para-alpine development athlete with the organization. Leach, she said, was named to Team B.C. as a B.C. Adaptive Snowsports athlete.
“We have observed him over the last few seasons through adaptive snowsports events and are supporting his progress and development as a ski racer,” said Smith. “He trains and competes with the local program at Vernon Ski Club as a targeted BC para-alpine athlete.
“As a targeted athlete with BC Adaptive Snowsports, Logan receives financial support via an athlete grant to help with his club fees with the Vernon Ski Club and help guide him on the para-alpine pathway. We have worked closely with the Vernon Ski Club whom have helped secure him a guide and make their program accessible to Logan.
“BC Alpine and BC Adaptive Snowsports are working together for these Games as one team. Coaches will work together with the alpine and para-alpine athletes during the Games.”
Leach took to skiing when his eyes began to fail him in his first true love, hockey.
He had been playing his favourite winter sport at the Pat Duke Memorial Arena when he was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease. His eyesight deteriorated to the point his doctor said he couldn’t play hockey anymore which, in a few words, said Leach, “sucked for me.”
Stargardt disease, according to blindness.org, “is the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration. The progressive vision loss associated with Stargardt disease is caused by the death of photoreceptor cells in the central portion of the retina called the macula.”
It was suggested Leach try skiing, which was a tough sell to the dejected hockey player.
“I didn’t like it at first,” he laughed. “I started at Silver Star with the Adaptive Snow Sport program, which was, like, eight lessons a year, then free skiing and having fun. I did lessons and I really started to like it, but it got to the point where it wasn’t challenging and, coming from hockey, it wasn’t competitive enough.”
He got involved with the Adaptive Snow Sport’s annual Carter Classic fundraiser, a fun ski race event that raises funds for the club, and ended up joining the adaptive race team. He stayed with that club until last year, when he joined the Vernon Ski Club and is in his second year with that organization, racing slalom and giant slalom events.
“It’s just fun,” said Leach of ski racing. “I picked up the sport pretty well. It took a lot to get to where I am with racing.”
The other thing he’s picked up is a guide, a fellow skier who helps him in competitions. Three years ago, he could ski down a regular run on a mountain with no problem. But if he was racing, Leach’s eyesight was to the point where he would, well, not see the race gates and ski right into them.
His current guide is Vernon’s Caele Kassa, who will be on the runs in front of Leach at Nakiska Ski Area, about 2.5 hours southwest of Red Deer, where the Para-Alpine competition for the Canada Winter Games takes place.
Asked what he expects at the Games, Leach answered simply, “I don’t know.”
“I’ve never been to anything like this before. I’m just going to go, have fun and enjoy the experience.”