Sidney Crosby inspired a dream.
Noah Robichaud is taking it from there.
The affable 15-year-old from Penobsquis, NB, who lives with cerebral palsy, is capturing hearts in his small Maritime community as he continues his inspirational journey in CanSkate, Canada’s flagship learn-to-skate program.
And he’s doing it sitting down, on a sledge.
“I’ve never seen him smile so much as when he’s on that ice,” says Tammy Robichaud, Noah’s mother, her voice starting to crack with emotion.
“He’s not treated any different than anyone else. He’s just one of the kids out there.”
“He’s been through so much, and he never complains. Noah always wanted to skate, but we just never looked into it. But once he saw that commercial…”
A commercial Tammy Robichaud says changed Noah’s life. Going through yet another round of rehabilitation following surgery this past summer, Noah was watching TV when he saw a Gatorade commercial featuring Crosby playing sledge hockey with several disabled athletes.
The dream was born. Noah formed the steel resolve that he was going to be just like Crosby, his childhood hero. So ironclad was that resolve that when Noah left the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation in nearby Fredericton, a sledge, loaned from Para New Brunswick, made the trip home with him.
Through social media, Tammy Robichaud reached out to the Sussex Skating Club, a mere ten minutes from their home in Penobsquis N.B., to inquire about a skating program for special needs children. Club officials worked with Skate Canada, and planning began. Coach Kirsten Graham, herself a CanSkate graduate from the club, trained with Para New Brunswick to help her prepare.
Weeks after bringing that sledge home, on October 7th, Noah took his first CanSkate lesson.
“When he falls over, he finds it hilarious and he just keeps laughing,” says Stacey Rouse-Charlton, head coach at Sussex Skating Club. “You can see every little bit of achievement from lesson to lesson.”
“Oh, yes, he’s not falling over nearly as much,” laughs Tammy Robichaud when asked if she sees her son progressing after his first couple of weeks on the ice.
“This has been life changing not only for Noah, but for a lot of us at the club, as well,” adds Rouse-Charlton. “I have never seen a child so happy. That smile widens with each lesson. We are a pretty small club, so to be able to work with a child like this is extremely gratifying. He is a very special young man.”
Sporting his Crosby jersey, Noah takes to the ice twice a week to work with Graham. Sitting in the stands, Tammy Robichaud cheers her son on as he makes his way around the modified CanSkate circuits, a mother sharing a cloud with her son as they live a dream.
“I hope this shows that just because a child has a disability, doesn’t mean they should be held back,” adds Tammy Robichaud. “Every child can do whatever they want, be whoever they want.”
“Noah’s story is one of inspiration and perseverance, and a testament to the true strength of the human spirit,” says Skate Canada CEO Dan Thompson. “Skate Canada is committed to continue to find ways of providing inclusive initiatives allowing all Canadians to embrace the joy of skating.”
“As a mom, nothing else matters but seeing him happy,” says Tammy. “He is a kid learning to skate, like everyone else.”
Rouse-Charlton says the largest hurdle the club has faced with Noah was finding a convenient way of getting him on and off the ice. A local contractor, whose daughter is taking CanSkate at the club, built a custom-made ramp for the club.
Word is starting to spread. The little club in New Brunswick has received several calls about the program and soon, one of Noah’s young friends will start lessons, once doctors and physiotherapists have given their stamp of approval.
“That is a special kid right there,” says Rouse-Charlton of Noah. “He’s not sitting on the sidelines saying ‘look at me, I have cerebral palsy.’
“He’s saying ‘look at me, I have cerebral palsy and can skate.’”