Tyler and I stood crouched at the start line in Winnipeg this past April. Snow blew sideways, but our nervous energy kept us warm. We were about to compete for $250,000, a trip around the world, and two brand-new vehicles on The Amazing Race Canada, Canada’s most-watched summer series.
If you’re not familiar with The Amazing Race Canada, it’s a reality adventure show where teams of two race each other around the country. Each of the race’s 10 legs happens in a different Canadian location, and at the end of most legs, one team is sent home. This competition of mental and physical challenges requires strategy and teamwork as you and your partner attempt to beat the other nine teams, all of whom have different upbringings, backgrounds, and skills.
But what makes a good competitor? Did we really have a chance at winning? As I eyed up the teams beside us, I couldn’t help but wonder if our Comox Valley background provided Tyler and me with an advantage. Would we be able to put the skills we’d both gained from growing up in the outdoors to good use?
Something about the Comox Valley sucked both of us in when we were looking for a change after years of living in Victoria. For me, perhaps it was the nostalgia of having grown up here, even though, as an angsty teenager, I swore I would never move back when I took off for university.
For Tyler, it was the fact that every sport he could find an adrenaline rush from was in our backyard. The Comox Valley is nestled between the mountains and the ocean—a perfect setting for any outdoor enthusiast. So much has changed since I was a kid living in Royston, but at the same time, nothing has changed at all. Auchterlonie Bakery is now the Cumberland Bakery; and there’s one ski resort, not two. However, Tyler and I fill our free time with all the same activities I did when I was younger.
Living here in the Valley as adults, we spend time enjoying not just the mountain bike trails and the ski lifts, but the breweries and restaurants where we can quench our thirst after a good ride.
Tyler has been a huge fan of The Amazing Race since the American version came out when he was a kid. Six years ago, when Tyler and I met—a few months before his skydiving accident that resulted in a bilateral amputation below his knees—I quickly learned that watching The Amazing Race Canada is part of the summertime routine.
We created an application video a few years ago, but never submitted it. After all, the timing has to be right in your life to commit to racing. But we are big fans of saying yes to opportunities, so when the opportunity to apply came up for us this past year, we jumped on it! When would we ever get this chance again?
PHOTOS BY KATE EDIGER (LEFT) & KAYLEEN VANDERREE (RIGHT)
Competition comes almost too naturally for Tyler; in fact, he thrives on it. His gold Paralympic medal is proof of that. But his prosthetic legs and partially paralyzed hamstring and glute muscles that qualify him to compete in the Paralympics were a bit of a hindrance when it came to The Amazing Race Canada. His prosthetist did his best to make him a new pair of better-fitting legs to help him run. We spent the two weeks leading up to the start of the race practicing with them: walking, golfing, mountain biking, and anything else we thought might be good training. Like I said, there’s plenty of places to exert yourself around here.
We didn’t know if this preparation would be enough, but one thing we did know is that on The Amazing Race Canada, it is mental stamina, more than physical ability, that really plays a role in success. And what Tyler lacks in the leg department, we make up for in the grit and determination department. After all, we’ve battled a lot these past six years together. We know if Tyler can’t physically do a challenge, then we’ll need to use our brains to think of a solution to approach it differently.
As it turned out, one of the toughest parts about The Amazing Race Canada was not being in control of what was coming next. Dealing with the logistics of Tyler’s prosthetics often takes planning, and while competing, we never knew what we were about to do until we ripped open the next clue. But with a little problem solving and our strategy of “slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” we managed to go with the flow and even find some success along the way.
On the West Coast, we found ourselves freediving, paddleboarding, rappelling down buildings, and even bungee jumping. We confidently tackled the outdoor challenges with as much grace as we could muster. During legs further east, we were really challenged by the memory tasks and the general endurance needed to complete a whole leg from start to finish. Routine tasks, like finding time to eat, knowing when to wait for a taxi, or even asking someone for directions, were strategic and mentally tiring. Decisions like keeping your cab driver for the day could make or break the leg.
Finally, we gathered once again with all our fellow competitors on the mat at the race’s endpoint. The past few weeks had been a whirlwind. Tears of pride streamed down my face when I thought about how much it took for Tyler to push through the pain. With each leg of the race we completed, we surprised ourselves. Our problem-solving pushed us when physically we weren’t able, and our mental fortitude and teamwork were the glue that held us together.
It’s taken a while for the race adrenaline to wind down and activities we did on the race to stop provoking me. We are now back to our routine of mountain biking and breweries, and next summer we’ll be watching The Amazing Race Canada again, if it returns, with an inside perspective of what it takes, and with fond memories of this adventure of a lifetime.