Eva von Flotow is patient, but by the morning of Aug. 5, she’d already waited four years to raft the Tatshenshini River.
She was eager to get on the water. The plan was months in the making for a few reasons, not least of which was the pandemic. But there were other logistics, too.
Eva has cerebral palsy and dystonia, so she uses a wheelchair. Her dystonia causes involuntary muscle contractions. These can be strong enough to cause injury, so Eva’s wrists and ankles are restrained. Her mother, Lynne von Flotow, says she and her husband, Erik, had multiple conversations with Tatshenshini Expediting about how to make the trip a success.
“We went and met with them a couple months ago,” Lynne says. “We took Eva’s wheelchair, and they had a boat on the ground. We put the chair in it, and they answered every question I had. What about this? What about that? They addressed all my safety concerns.”
Eva cuts her mother off. “No offence, ma,” she says. “But [you are] the type of mother who is, uh…” She searches for a delicate word.
“A scaredy chicken?” Lynne says.
“Nervous,” Eva finishes.
Eva, on the other hand, is fearless. That’s the word she applies to herself. She says she’s not scared of anything, and she can back that up. The Tatshenshini trip was her first time on whitewater. If she was nervous as she was being lifted into the raft, it was hard to tell from the way she was cheering.
This past winter, Eva decided she wanted to use the sit-ski at Mount Sima. When the instructor guiding the sit-ski asked if she wanted to start on the Bunny Hill, Eva was definitive. She was there for the big hill, thanks.
The ski trip happened around the same year Eva got a tattoo on her left forearm, of a daisy and fireweed. Her mother was in Mexico at the time. Eva was at the home she shares with her parents.
“You’re an adult now,” Lynne says, looking at the tattoo. “Fair enough.”
Eva, 22, has been looking for ways to be more independent. She works part-time, managing social media at Lumel Studios. She says she’s been encouraging Lynne to get out and do more things on her own, too. And not just so she can get tattoos.
“I’ve always done things with my mother,” she says. “And no offence, ma, but I’m ready to do some things without you.”
She doesn’t want her chair to be an obstacle to those things, so she has a motto: improvise, adapt and overcome. Wherever she goes, Eva is willing to find a way to make activities, like rafting and skiing, work for her. So are most of the people she runs into, she says.
She’s travelled to Mexico, Jamaica, Bali and Las Vegas. Often, hotels aren’t fully accessible. However, staff are more than willing to craft makeshift ramps so she can manage steps, or prop her bed up on cinderblocks so her lift can properly transfer her from her wheelchair to a hotel bed.
At home in the Yukon, Eva started a Challenger baseball chapter through the Jays Care Foundation. It offers accessible baseball to children and youth on Tuesday nights. Growing up, she says she didn’t have a lot of opportunity to play sports. She wants to ensure that’s not the case for others, to give everyone the chance to be part of a team.
“Most people think people who have any disability aren’t able to do stuff,” she says. “I’m here to say, to everyone up here anyway, just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do things.”
At the same time, Eva is quite vocal about what gets in the way and how it needs to change. When she was still a high school student at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Secondary School, she took her classmates on what she calls “a disability downtown tour.”
“I think it really opened their eyes,” Eva says.
There are so many things people don’t think about. Barstool seating makes it impossible for Eva to eat at some restaurants. A lack of family bathrooms and changing rooms means she can’t use some spaces intended for everyone. Parking is difficult, especially in the winter, when snow is typically pushed to the curbs. Even if her side-loading van can pull into an accessible parking space, its ramp is useless on a pile of snow. There are a number of push buttons on doors around Whitehorse that consistently don’t work, so someone has to open the door for her. And then there are the signs.
“Signs across town say handicapped,” Eva says. “And I’m like, ‘Ok. It should say accessible, not handicapped.’ What are we in, the ’60s? I don’t think so.”
She points to signs at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, which read “van-accessible,” as the standard she’d like to see in the territory.
Both Eva and Lynne say things have improved since Eva was younger. Lynne says the Yukon government is more responsive to the needs of individual families now than it used to be. When Eva was growing up, the family could get funding for sibling counselling, Lynne says, but they never needed that. What they needed was a ceiling lift in their Whitehorse home.
These days, Lynne says Eva has more support than ever. In the last few years, they’ve added an elevator to their home and a basement suite so that a live-in caregiver could be an option one day. They’ve converted two vans and a camper. They had a lift put in beside their hot tub so that Eva can transfer into it easily. They’ve been able to access funding for some of this work. They’ve also had funding for caregivers and respite workers. But it can always be better, they say. And they’ll keep advocating for it.
“Believe me, you don’t want to see my mother with her mama bear claws out,” Eva says.
In recent years, this attitude means Eva has been able to attend Blue Jays games in Toronto. She’s done something in Las Vegas called a scorpion shot that makes Dawson’s sourtoe cocktail look like Kool-Aid. She’s been swimming in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific, the Atlantic and, Lynne adds, Marsh Lake.
The Arctic Ocean is next on her list. And if anyone suggests, like they once did about the possibility of Eva visiting Bali, that she might not be able to do it?
“Watch me,” Eva says.
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org