Lumby skier Logan Leach (rear) uses a guide in competitions to help him maneuvre slalom and giant slalom courses. The visually impaired Grade 11 Charles Bloom Secondary student will compete for B.C. at the Canada Winter Games in Para-Alpine Skiing. (Jen Clarke photo)

Visually-impaired Okanagan skier pumped for Canada Winter Games

Logan Leach, 16, visually impaired, will compete at Canada Winter Games in Para-Alpine Skiing

The letter that came to his Lumby home in November left Logan Leach confused.

Excited, but confused.

It was a letter from B.C. Alpine Skiing 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 by B.C. Alpine Skiing.

“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.

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.

RELATED: Silver Star Adaptive Snow Sports gears up for annual fundraising race

“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.

“Last year, I got a guide for the winter to ski with me all the time and it’s the same this year, just a different guide,” said Leach. “During a race, Caele skis right in front of me. We recently got a radio headset so we can talk to each other now. He’ll point out things like combinations, changing terrain, fallways, holes, ruts, tight turns, that kind of stuff.

“In competition, the race is timed so I ski as fast as I can. I can tell him go faster or go slower, and he’s on the watch for how far away he is from me because if he gets too far away we can get disqualified. So he has to watch that and that comes with practice.”

RELATED: Sharing a love of snow sports

Mike and Kim beam when talking about the pride they have in their son.

“He trains hard every weekend. I take him up the hill and he skis his butt off every weekend,” said Mike. “We are so proud of him and so excited for him.”

His parents will be at the course watching him compete.

“What they do for me means a lot,” said Leach, who has a winter job shovelling snow and works for a concrete plant in the summer. “They drive me to SilverStar, pay for everything, it’s pretty awesome.”

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.”



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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