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MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Our season-ticket holders have some amazing stories to tell. Today, we profile Darby Young, a longtime fan who's dedicated her life to sports and bettering the community

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Tucked away in the quiet, staff break room stood a beacon of joy in the otherwise, pitch-black rink.

It was Christmas Day, 2011.

Sunrise, looming, but still no sign of the big man.

While Flames employees were off enjoying their holiday, the Scotiabank Saddledome was abuzz down below, with practices for the upcoming World Junior Championship underway.

"But," Darby Young, who was on volunteer duty that day, recalls, "we lost power.

"Literally, right before practice. I was in charge of the event level and made sure all the players and officials were able to do their jobs.

"So, I did what I had to do. I 'stole' the staff Christmas tree out of the office and put it in the middle of the hallway near the dressing rooms.

"Six-thirty in the morning and there's this dorky little tree standing there when everyone arrives. They were like, '…where did that come from?'

"I just pulled it out to (spread) some cheer as players arrived for practice."

 

 

Turns out, it was another example of Young doing what she does best - fiercely overcoming the odds and getting the job done, no matter what.

She's opened doors, championed change, and has broken down barriers at every turn, devoting her life to a noble endeavour so others can live theirs to the fullest.

You see, Young - a full-time season-ticket holder since 2004 - was born with cerebral palsy.

But it was early on when she discovered a passion for sports, and it became clear that no physical limitation could ever shake her enthusiasm.

Fast forward and just last year, she was named one of Canada's Top-40 Under 40.

All because of a dream and a relentless bit of willpower that's helped shape our community.

 

 

"I love sports and went to Flames games all the time with my father (Earl, a retired Controller at Hockey Canada) when I was little," she says. "We used to have a condo in Invermere, B.C. - up by Panorama Ski Resort - and I absolutely loved the snow, so I took an interest in it and strapped on the skis when I was eight years old over at COP.

"Because of my disability, my parents put me in a Friday night program called CADS (Canadian Association for Disabled Skiers). For three hours, you'd go out with a volunteer and learn how to ski.

"As I got better, they saw me and said, 'Well, if you like to go fast, would you like to try going through the gates?' I was all over that. I really liked having the structure. So, by turning the skiing into racing, you have to go through the course, or you fail.

"I fell in love with it.

"And I learned, later on, that through my own experiences, I had the ability to make positive change."

Young rapidly ascended the ranks and made waves, racing all over Canada and the U.S. in three different disciplines - Downhill, Super-G and GS - on the para-alpine scene.

 

 

The rush of adrenaline was unlike anything Young had ever experienced, comparing the slopes, the gale-force winds, and the incomparable cut of the skis to the excitement of a goal down at the 'Dome.

But the sport had yet to achieve the prominence it has now, and Young had to work tirelessly to keep the lights (and boots) on.

"Back when I was racing, it was all privately funded through my parents with door-to-door fundraising and even a number of the Flames players - Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, even Jarome - they helped donate to keep the programs running and to help us get to different races," Young says.

"It was up to us to get bottles and cans, or get donations. And those guys stepped up to help.

"They generally kept a lot of it quiet and they did it because they cared, and realized it was an integral part of our community. It speaks to the kind of people the organization has had at the top over the years.

"I always loved hockey, but that certainly made my connection to the Flames more personal."

A crash and subsequent knee injury effectively ended her career in 2004 - the same year she took ownership of her father's tickets - and by then, she'd realized the impact of her career had far-reaching benefits.

After volunteering at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, following in her father's footsteps and globetrotting to various events with Hockey Canada, Young founded Level Playing Field in 2015 - an accessibility consulting agency that provides universal design solutions.

It's all aimed at creating accessible urban environments so people with disabilities can enjoy their life and get involved in the community.

"Sport is what's made me who I am, and my goal for parents of disabled children, is to push people to get their kids involved, so they can see there's a lot more to life than what meets the eye," Young said. "I got there because of the people that helped me get there.

"And now, I'm doing everything possible to re-pay the favour."

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