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Chantelle Reads Memoir at Book Launch

Chantelle proudly and confidently read from her memoir, A Third Wheel is Not Always a Bad Thing, during a book launch at Brantford Public Library on Tuesday afternoon. Chantelle wrote the memoir about her adaptive trike, how she came to obtain the three-wheeler and what it means to her. Her story is one of 13 published in Shared Memories, written by the members of the Brantford Lifescapes Writing Group 2018, a memoir writing program sponsored by Brantford Public Library. Chantelle said this was the second time she has contributed a story as a member of the writing group. She is looking forward to participating again the future. Chantelle and her fellow writers shared excerpts from their stories with the audience gathered in the third floor auditorium at BPL. Joining Chantelle at the book launch were intervenor Shelley, intervenor services coordinator Rob Fairhall, RC Store coordinator Mike Merritt and communications coordinator Brian Shypula. Chantelle’s memoir included information and artwork from the CHARGE Syndrome Foundation, Ethan Wolfe Recreational Assistance Program and black and white photos of Chantelle and her trike. “We’re here to celebrate the 11th anthology, which is pretty amazing,” said Robin Harding, coordinator of programming and outreach for adults and seniors at Brantford Public Library, and the editor of Shared Memories. Harding said the authors overcame challenges included the Brantford flood and construction at the library to complete the project. Chantelle agreed to share her story here for our followers and supporters.

A THIRD WHEEL IS NOT ALWAYS A BAD THING By Chantelle McLaren My name is Chantelle. I have a genetic disorder called CHARGE syndrome. I am legally deafblind, and the main attribute of my syndrome is that I am stubborn, determined and insist on taking on at least eleven trillion projects at once. So, focusing on a single task is a challenge when I want to do everything at once, and that is not even taking into account how tricky everyday tasks are with a multi-sensory impairment. Sometimes it is awkward to get started on a memoir. I want to write, yet a part of me feels that a memoir should be something that happened years and years ago, and not just in the last year. I remember being told by many people that one day, years from now, the adventure I now have with my adaptive trike, will be a memoir for people. Even the act of sitting down to write seems to be an exercise in staying focused. Our lives get so busy that it can take some determination and bribing myself in order to write. I constantly think of excuses to procrastinate. Would people want to read about my trike? Perhaps I could tell about my first ride, but I feel that there is just as important of a story behind why I need an adaptive trike. I finally managed to make myself sit down on the third floor of the Brantford Public Library. A nice bright yellow sitting area with a wall-sized window that faces south, so the sun is currently shining, reflecting off of the snow outside, as I sit and ponder how to start talking about my adaptive trike. I find my brain making yet another excuse to why I can’t write about my trike; there is snow everywhere and my trike is currently in storage. This light blue bike with silver mud guards and six speeds, instead of just three, aiding me in climbing hills. It is light weight, making pedalling a breeze. I find I am missing riding because of the snow and ice on the sidewalks. I make myself focus on writing this story. So, back to the library, I look around the third floor with the sitting areas along the wall, and islands of tables along the centre that seem to create a nice track. Right now I would happily ride my trike around the third floor, but it is in storage, and somehow, I don’t think the librarians would be too keen on that idea, so I will just write. A few years ago I was still able to ride on a standard two-wheel bike. I would explore trails around Brantford. My favourite biking spot was a trail in West Brant that went from Cockshutt Park and ended in D’Aubigny Creek Park. Riding in the morning was particularly enjoyable. I would bike to a nice shaded area to sit by the Grand River and watch the fish leaping out of the river. My vision is not good enough to see the fish leaping, but I do love seeing the splash and watching the ripples while the sun is still low in the sky. This spot always seems so magical in the early morning. The deep green leaves on the tree seem to stand still, and the whole world seems frozen in time, and the only movement is myself and the fish that by now is back under the water with its breakfast fly. It is moments like this that make riding very special for me. Riding always makes me feel calm, focused and rejuvenated. In spite of my limited visual field and malformed semi-circular ear canals, I still tried to keep biking. However, I was having increased incidences of crashing into bushes and trees, and losing control, and falling off my bike. It was becoming clear that my balance was getting worse. My injuries were getting progressively more serious, and as much as I wanted to keep riding, it was evident that it was no longer safe for me to ride. After a particularly bad crash where I bruised my entire right calf and cut my hand, I reluctantly gave away my bike. So for several years I had no set of wheels. At first I did not mind, but I really did miss riding. I missed the ability to move at exhilarating speeds that I had travelled with my old bike. Gradually I started looking around for different adaptive bikes. I remember when I was in high school I tried out a friend’s adaptive trike. It was a very heavy one-speed model. I knew this was not quite what I wanted, though it did offer the stability of being three wheels instead of just two. I knew this was not quite what I wanted, but safety and stability is what I now need, and I knew I needed something. I tried riding on a stationary bike at the gym, but I quickly realized this was not enough. I missed the exhilaration of riding outdoors. I looked into many suppliers and vendors. I soon found the type of bike I was looking for, though the price was quite high. I was not completely deterred. I was determined to figure out how to afford one. I found the Ethan Wolfe Recreational Assistance Program, a special bursary offered by the CHARGE Syndrome Foundation. This bursary is in memory of a young boy with CHARGE syndrome who really enjoyed sports. I found that each year the bursary would allow individuals with CHARGE to participate in recreational activities such as swimming, going to camp or adaptive biking. Since this potential source of funding was available to apply for, I went to Cyclepath in Brantford, and found a three-speed trike that I was interested in getting a price quote. The sales person I talked to was very friendly and showed me many options as I talked about what I was looking for. Finally he showed me a six-speed model. I was in love with the design of the bike. At last I had found what I was looking for. I was even able to order the colour I wanted, Blue, because well, a certain British science fiction show about a time travelling alien in a TARDIS … Doctor Who! So I put together the application for the adaptive trike. It was an intro into why I wanted to receive funding to acquire the adaptive trike.

“Hello my name is Chantelle McLaren. I am 38 years old, live independently and have CHARGE syndrome. I have a craft business. I also enjoy going to the gym. I used to love to ride a bike, but my balance was never good, and it has gotten unstable enough for me to not be able to ride a normal 2-wheel bicycle safely. With my restricted visual field, I would feel safer with the stability of the tricycle that is not available on a street bike. I would like to get an adult tricycle so that I could continue to be further independent. I would use it to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, and to use it to get to activities I enjoy. I live in a town with limited bus services that do not always suit my needs. Having a trike would allow me greater opportunity to engage in social activities, being able to decide to travel back home on my own schedule, furthering my independence. The trike would allow me to return to biking, an activity I enjoyed so much in the past but needed to stop after several bad falls. I miss being able to ride trails and being out in nature taking photographs and just being able to explore the trails and bike paths around town. I am hoping the cost of a helmet, safety flag and bike lock can also be included.” It was such a fantastic feeling when I found out my request for funding was accepted and I finally picked my trike. I have my journal entry from my first day of picking up the trike. “I picked up my trike this morning!!!!! 🙂 I love it. Riding it was perfect! The colour is perfect. Everything about riding it just feels so natural. I know I can explain it in a way that CHARGErs understand. When turning on a 2-wheel bike you are supposed to turn with the bike but that feels all wrong and is why I lose balance and fall. On this bike to keep it steady you turn against the bike which is what feels better and keeps the feeling of stability. I have to say the weather is lovely. The power went out at home so I went up to get my bike in the morning instead of this afternoon. I went to get a coffee and after I bought my coffee the power went out. I got my bike and was riding home and it just felt so natural like I have been riding one of these my whole life. I thought about Ethan on my way home. I feel like a part of his spirit was with me as I rode home. I just had a smile on my face and felt like I had the ‘CHARGE energy’ around me. It is that special feeling when I am around other CHARGErs. I felt so much love and energy. I am joking on messenger right now with my CHARGE family and I think we all agree that I must be superCHARGEd haha!” I think my next project is to get a DSLR or a compact mirrorless camera so I can take even more photos while exploring around Brantford on my trike.