At first, Noah Robichaud found his source of inspiration in a television commercial.

Now the teenager is inspiring others to chase their own dreams.

It’s been about a year since the 16-year-old from Penobsquis, NB, who lives with cerebral palsy, was in rehabilitation following another surgery when he saw a commercial featuring his hero Sidney Crosby, playing sledge hockey.

In that moment, a dream was born.

Not long after, Noah left the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation with a sledge of his own, donated by Para New Brunswick. Once they returned home Noah’s mother, Tammy, called the nearby Sussex Skating Club to inquire about a skating program for children with special needs. Physical and occupational therapists were consulted and, last October, Noah began CanSkate lessons with coaches Kirsten Graham and Stacey Rouse-Charlton.

Almost a year after Noah took his first lesson, the sledge program is growing at an astounding rate.

This season, five sledge skaters will take to the ice with their classmates for lessons in Skate Canada’s flagship learn-to-skate program, CanSkate.

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“These kids have seen their fair share of disappointment, and we are not going to let anyone tell them they can’t do something,” says Rouse-Charlton, who credits several organizations supporting the initiative including Recreation NB and Para New Brunswick.

“CanSkate is inclusive for everyone who wants to learn to skate. Seeing the joy, that is what it is all about, and letting these kids know that, yes, they are equal. Skating on a sledge is skating.”

The inclusiveness of the program has caught the attention of others. Rouse-Charlton and her club were recently honoured with two distinguished awards: the CoachNB Everyone Matters Award and the Randy Dickinson Community Inclusion Award.

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The awards mean a lot to Rouse-Charlton and her Sussex colleagues, but they aren’t doing this for the accolades.

They want to make a difference in the lives of others.

“This has never been about making my life better,” says Rouse-Charlton. “This is all about making their lives better. But being recognized shows the trust that others, especially the parents, have in what we are doing.

“That means everything to us.”

The fast-track growth of the program has caught everyone off guard. Noah’s story made headlines in the Maritimes, and the reaction has been overwhelming.

Rouse-Charlton, who has been involved in skating all her life and has been teaching CanSkate for seven years, admits she was hesitant about starting the sledge program.

“I’ll be honest, I was terrified at the beginning,” she admits. “You always have a fear of the unknown. But if you are willing to put those fears aside and just give it a try, it can change lives. We are a small club. And we are proof that anything is possible.”

“The program just keeps growing. This is beyond what we dreamed.”

And it is about more than learning to skate. The program is teaching life lessons and the importance of inclusion. Rouse-Charlton sees this everyday.

“Other kids on the ice look up to these kids, and are inspired by them,” she says. “The friendships that are being built are truly special. All the kids admire our sledge athletes.”

“There are life lessons being taught here with these kids –  how we are all equal. We could all learn a little from what we have going on here.”

 

If you are interested in discussing the sledge CanSkate program with Stacey Rouse-Charlton, please email staceych@nbnet.nb.ca