CORNER BROOK -
With plenty of determination and a little help from their friends, two very special young women recently enjoyed a view they will never forget.
Twin sisters Mandy and Megan Penney, both born with cerebral palsy, hiked to the top of Blomidon Mountain May 29. The trip was organized by Corner Brook Regional High School teachers Sean Dwyer and Abby Hynes with the help of a group of volunteers which included 26 students, eight teachers and three adult participants.
The group took three hours and 40 minutes along the new Copper Mine Cape Trail, one which begins near York Harbour, to reach the summit of the mountain some 650 metres above sea level. The 18-year-old sisters used special, off-road wheelchairs called Trail Riders for the trek and volunteers took turns helping steer the chairs and clear the path as the group progressed up the mountain.
According to Mandy, the view from the top was foggy at first but once the weather cleared, the vista of the Bay of Islands was a stunning one.
"It was a really fun experience because we've never been to the top of a mountain before," Penney told The Western Star. "It was really foggy so you couldn't see a lot, but just as we were about to leave, the fog lifted and you could see everything. When we were going down everything looked different, we were like 'Woah, we didn't know that was there before.'"
Megan was also impressed with the view and surprised to see how flat the terrain was at the summit.
"You can see the mill and all of Lark Harbour and Corner Brook," she said. "Plus you can see all the hills and the ponds and where the water falls are. There's a big pile of rocks at the top and it's really cool because it's so flat. You expect a mountain to be pointy at the top but it's really flat."
Level Three students at Corner Brook High, the girls are members of the school's outdoor pursuits club and are actively involved with Easter Seals, something which gives them a chance to enjoy such activities as curling, rafting, ziplining and skiing.
Despite staying busy with such a variety of activities, Mandy said this particular hike will always hold a special place in their hearts, especially since so many of their classmates pitched in to help make the trip possible.
"The best part was being with everybody and seeing how they helped us get up there," she said. "I knew a lot of them since elementary school so it was nice to get to go with them. It was really fun because everyone kept laughing. Nobody complained or anything."
For her part, Megan was also touched to see the amount of time and effort from the teachers and other volunteers alike in helping them climb the mountain.
"It wasn't that they had to do it, they volunteered," she said. "So it was a nice feeling and the fact that they volunteered made you really feel special. I think Mr. Dwyer and Mrs. Hynes have been planning it since the fall and they spent all that time organizing it and the other teachers that came too spent their whole Saturday with us."
Described by Megan as similar to a wheelchair and wheel barrow, Mandy said the Trail Riders are designed to allow users to reach places and traverse terrain ordinary wheel chairs would never be able to.
"They have big tires and then you sit in it and someone gets in front to grab the handles," she said of chairs. "Someone's in back steering and they have the brakes. Then there's two people on the side who are there just in case. One person will push and the other two will pull it and if you need to be lifted up they just lift you right up."
The daughters of Denise Penney of Corner Brook, the sisters both plan to enrol in general studies at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in the fall, with Mandy considering studying psychology and Megan still undecided about a field of study.
Whatever the future holds, the girls both said they would jump at the opportunity to participate in similar adventures in the past.
Two young women who refuse to be limited by their medical condition, Mandy and Megan hope young people with similar challenges will be inspired to reach for mountain tops of their own.
"I hope it will teach them they can do whatever anyone else can do all they need is a little help," Mandy said.
"You can do anything if you just take the time to figure out a different way," said Megan.
For his part, Dwyer isn't surprised to see such an attitude from the twin sisters with little regard for the word can't.
"One thing these girls don't want is any pity from themselves or anybody else," Dwyer said. "They are two of the most upbeat, funny girls. They do their thing, they get involved and they don't back down from anything. They've got a real move-forward attitude."
A physical education teacher at the school, Dwyer was inspired to plan the trip along with Hynes after seeing a DVD about a similar trip in British Columbia. Given the fact the school recently purchased a Trail Rider and loaned another from Easter Seals in St. John's, Dwyer said the trip became a natural labour of love for all involved.
"It was an opportunity to get Megan and Mandy to a place they wouldn't normally get to go," he said. "I love all the outdoor activities myself and with these girls being interested, I really wanted to make them a part of it all."