New Westminster resident and disability advocate Paul Gauthier has entered a contest to win a new vehicle to replace one he says is breaking down.
Paul Gauthier has always faced long odds.
But he keeps defying them.
In his latest battle, the New West resident has entered a U.S.-based contest he’s hoping will net him a new wheelchair accessible vehicle.
Gauthier, 43, has cerebral palsy. He needs help to get dressed, eat and go to the washroom. He also needs a driver for his van.
But it’s more than a decade old and falling apart.
So he’s entered the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association’s contest to celebrate National Mobility Awareness Month.
It awards accessible vehicles to local heroes who champion the cause.
And Gauthier certainly qualifies.
Gauthier needs an electric wheelchair to get around and has always been fascinated with assistive technology. He’s got all sorts of gizmos and gadgets for his chair that allow him to communicate, work and play. He can open his Victoria Hill apartment door from his chair. He’s also got a computer program that will type out what he dictates.
“My van is breaking down. The ramp is breaking and the vehicle is always going into the shop,” said Gauthier. “It gets a fair bit of kilometres on it because I travel around a fair bit. I want to be able to continue to do that.”
Gauthier grew up in a foster home raised by “a wonderful English lady.” When he was about 13 he moved to a group home. “I had seven mothers and seven fathers with all sorts of values and beliefs. I learned how to communicate. That’s where I learned the system,” he says. “I fought for my support.”
Despite having so many challenges to face, Gauthier persevered.
“I had to find it within, and I had to believe. I had set my own personal goals, and I was a very competitive person. I always wanted to do my best. I realized I had to learn how to survive. I met some incredible people along the way that inspired me to be independent. I saw them living in the community and thought if they can do it, why not me?”
For the last two decades Gauthier’s job has involved helping people tap into the provincial Choices in Support for Independent Living program.
It allows those who need it to purchase and manage their own home support services. Some of those he’s helped are featured on his contest story video.
He was working for the B.C. Personal Supports Network. But the funding ran out and last Friday was his final day on the job.
Now he’s starting a non-profit in New West to help seniors and those with disabilities get home support.
“I’m trying to recreate myself and see where Paul goes next,” said Gauthier. “I tend to not stop, I’ve got to keep going. I’m a builder. I love building new programs.”
Gauthier’s resolve is natural. When his classmates played ball hockey he’d put his big wheelchair in front of the net and play goal. He went on to play power soccer before finding his competitive calling with boccia. He’s gone to five Paralympics starting with 1996 in Atlanta.
New Westminster resident Paul Gauthier has represented Canada in boccia at five Paralympic Games winning a gold medal and three bronze.
Four years later in Sydney he came home with two bronze medals before winning a gold and bronze in Athens in 2004.
He was the first Canadian to win a gold medal in the individual event.
He hopes London 2012 wasn’t his last Paralympics. He’s set his sights on Rio de Janeiro in 2016, although he admits he’s juggling a lot of balls these days. And not just boccia balls.
Besides his sporting and advocacy pursuits, Gauthier was a guardian to a teenage boy with an anxiety disorder—the son of a foster sister he grew up with.
And above all, he’s a husband to Sarah and father to Matteo. The three-year-old boy winds up the two-minute contest story video by climbing up Gauthier’s leg. He then stands up on his dad’s lap, thrusts his fist in the air and shouts “Vote for Daddy!” It’s an ending that sends the needle sky high on the cute quotient meter.
“I want to give back to the system. I cost the system a lot of money over the years, but it’s my hope I can show my country, my province and my city it was a good investment,” Gauthier said.
Gauthier has Chris Hofley’s vote. They grew up together in the group home. The Downtown New Westminster resident also uses an electric wheelchair and has a full-time job at a call centre. He’s been the beneficiary of Gauthier’s advocacy.
“Paul works real hard in the community,” said Hofley. “Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be independent, but it doesn’t take long, it does make a difference.”
• Gauthier needs all the votes he can get. Although his total tripled within a week to more than 1,800 by Monday, it’s about a third behind the leaders. You can vote in the contest at www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com. Those having trouble navigating the website to vote for Gauthier can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and he’ll send the link and a how-to guide.