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Griffin Martel: Speed demon

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Canuck Place Family Skate gives children the opportunity to emulate their heroes

Griffin Martel is six-years-old.

Griffin Martel has a seizure disorder and developmental delay.

Griffin Martel is a speed demon.

Confined to a wheelchair with a limited range of motion and fully dependant on care, Griffin can’t take part in activities most kids enjoy. He can’t run, he can’t jump, he can’t skate. But he sure can tear it up on the ice.

Griffin, one of the many children helped by Canuck Place Children's Hospice, recently got the chance to show off his speed on the ice at General Motors Place as part of the annual Canuck Place Family Skate.

With his blue helmet strapped on tight, snug Canucks jersey showing his pride and autographed Canucks shoes displaying his one-of-a-kind style, Griffin hit the ice alongside his parents, Warren and Alysone, and siblings Nicole and Spencer. With dad at the helm, Griffin soared up and down the ice and for one exciting morning, this youngster and his family were far removed from his struggles.

“When he’s really happy, like he is on the ice, his legs and his arms go out and he has a big grin, he’s just loving it,” said Alysone. “He’s a speed demon and this really gives him the best opportunity to go fast like that.”

“The look on his face when we’re out there flying around on the ice is fabulous,” added Warren. “The faster he goes he gets tears streaming down his face from the cold air and just a big smile on his face and he’s just laughing away. He just loves that and it brings us together as a family.”

Griffin’s wheelchair usually can’t handle too much speed as the wheels wobble and it becomes unsafe. On the ice his chair glides smooth enough for him to do donuts.

That’s what the Canuck Place Family Skate is all about. It’s an opportunity for children who ordinarily can’t be themselves to break free and be kids.

Michele Cadario, managing director of marketing, communications & development for Canuck Place, couldn’t be prouder that this event, which was attended by more than 170 people, has grown into something children look forward to year-round.

“For them to be able to come and skate on the same ice that their heroes skate on and make some plays to emulate what their heroes do is pretty fantastic,” said Cadario. “It’s just such a special day."

“These families deal with unimaginable challenges each and every day of their lives, every aspect of living produces difficulties, whether it’s feeding or sleeping, providing medications to transportation for the children in wheelchairs, it’s a struggle. But then you also worry about providing a special time and a unique experience that other children don’t necessarily get to have.

“For these kids and for their families, this event provides a great memory and they can go home and they can go to school and talk about how they were skating on the ice at GM Place and be a little bit of a hero to their own friends.”

The Canucks were in the midst of a road trip during the event so the only player able to attend was forward Michael Grabner, who stayed in Vancouver because of a fractured ankle.

Instead of taking part in the skate like Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk did last season, Grabner signed autographs and answered questions about the Canucks and his injury.

This was Grabner’s first time at the skate and it was a close call as to who was more wide-eyed, the kids meeting one of their heroes or Grabner meeting such incredible kids.

“It’s nice to give back to the community, they always stand behind us in this city, so it’s nice to do stuff like this and give them a little bit of fun and I really enjoy that,” said Grabner, adding that overwhelmed best described how he was feeling.

“It’s just such a little thing for me to be here. And you sign your name and it makes them feel good and makes their day and it’s good to see that. Whenever you can give back it’s good. We are doing what we love and these kids are limited in what they can do so it’s nice to give back.

“We’re all very fortunate to be able to do our hobby as jobs and it takes very little to make these kids that are not so fortunate smile and see them enjoy going on the ice and it makes me feel good too.”

For Griffin, meeting Grabner was exciting and the autograph he got will be added to the wall in his bedroom, the one already plastered with Canucks memorabilia, but the real thrill was getting out on the ice and burning rubber.

Despite his struggles, thanks to the Canuck Place Family Skate, Griffin has been able to fulfill his true calling as a speed demon.

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