Aaron Friesen, 21, has spastic bilateral cerebral palsy, a condition caused by a lack of oxygen at birth. He’s spent his entire life in a wheelchair, but thanks to his tight-knit group of friends he’s able to experience the natural wonders of the Canadian wilderness.
The group recently hiked to the top of a waterfall.
“This condition affects my whole body, but mainly my legs,” Friesen told CTV News. “I have been in a wheelchair for my whole life. Some people like to give me pity or feel that they should. My family and friends know that that’s not what I want, though. What I want is to be treated like I belong and they do a great job of that.”
Willy Peters, Cornie Klassen, Benny Thiesen and Avlin Wolf hiked the 2.5-mile trek up the Grotto Canyon trail near Canmore, Alberta, to get a look at the majestic falls.
“We just wanted to see the waterfall, and Aaron goes wherever we go,” Peters said.
After several years of friendship, it’s not often the group heads out at anything lass than full strength. This crew runs deep.
“I would say we’re pretty close as a group of guys,” said Alvin Wolf. “We’ve known each other for a long time, and we’ve done some pretty crazy stuff. Our friendship is pretty awesome, and it’s definitely noticeable when one of us is missing.”
At some points the trail was rocky and steep. But the friends never faltered.
“At first, the guys just took turns using brute force and tried to push my chair up that mountain,” Friesen said. “It quickly became very evident that this wasn’t going to work, especially now that my wheelchair was hobbling on three tires. We were going to have to do this another way.”
When pushing the wheelchair became too difficult, the friends hoisted it over their shoulders with a few sturdy sticks.
“I will admit, I was a little nervous,” Friesen said. “I always am when we do these hiking trips. It’s so much fun, though. The laughter, adrenaline and feeling of accomplishment you get after completing a task like this is unreal!
“I mean, I feel like there haven’t been many wheelchairs up to that waterfall.”
Indeed, there have not. Friesen’s successful climb not only inspired those on their way up the trail that day, but many more as his story is shared around the Internet.
Mary Dorchester, another visitor to the Grotto Canyon the day, captured a photo of the group and posted it to her Facebook page.
“I’m sending this picture out to anybody in the Calgary area that can recognize these young awesome men,” Dorchester wrote. “I had the pleasure of meeting them at the Grotto Canyon and elbow falls In Exshaw Alberta. These young men totally need super attention to what kind hearts they have. They took this young man up the whole way by carrying him through the rock canyons and literally taking him right up to the falls so he could enjoy the view.”
“Every passing person seemed to have a look of awe, inspiration and probably a little bit of shock to see a wheelchair on a trail like this,” Friesen said. “A lot of people made comments about how awesome and inspiring this was and telling me that I have incredible friends. They are not wrong when they say this.”
Friesen is grateful for his friends, and the experience they were able to achieve through teamwork and determination.
“My friends are amazing! I thank God so much for providing me with such a great support group that has helped me gain the confidence, courage and strength needed to live a fulfilling life.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.