Ski instructor helping others carve their own trail

Phillip McNeely never let his cerebral palsy stop him from learning to ski, and for the past decade, he's been helping others carve a similar path.

Phillip McNeely, who has cerebral palsy, inspires others to overcome their disabilities

Phillip McNeely, left, with student Tom Palsson and Tom's mother, Jennifer Palsson. McNeely is a volunteer instructor at Mount Pakenham with the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing program. (Bárbara d'Oro/CBC)

Phillip McNeely never let his cerebral palsy stop him from learning to ski, and for the past decade, he's been helping others carve a similar path.

McNeely learned to ski as a child at Edelweiss in La Pêche, Que., through a program run by the Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing (CADS), a volunteer organization.

Now 48, he's been on staff at nearby Mount Pakenham for 17 years, where he also volunteers as a CADS instructor.

Dave Mathewson, the hill's operations manager, said McNeely leads by example.

"Phillip can be a role model ... and show them that, 'Look you can do this,'" Mathewson said.

Disabled skiing instructor blazes a trail

3 years ago
Duration 3:01
Phillip McNeely didn't let his Cerebral palsy stop him from learning to ski and now he teaches other kids to ski.

Started skiing at 5

McNeely had his first ski outing at five, the year after he was adopted. He enjoyed it so much that he took CADS lessons for three years.

"When he was adopted he could hardly walk, but we encouraged him to keep moving," said his mother, Myrtle McNeely.

McNeely was afraid he wouldn't pass the test to become a ski instructor because he had difficulty reading, but with the help of a friend he managed to get his Level 1 certificate.

Mount Pakenham is one of eight ski hills in Ontario that offers ski lessons to children, youth or adults with disabilities and special needs through the volunteer CADS program.

Student and teacher. 'He has been where Tom has been, so he understands,' said Jennifer Palsson about instructor Phillip McNeely. (Bárbara d'Oro/CBC)

Leading by example

Tom Palsson, 11, started in the program last year and is one of McNeely's students. He has Dravet syndrome, a rare type of epilepsy that has no cure.

His mother, Jennifer Palsson, said McNeely has made all the difference.

"I think they have more compassion and understanding," she said. "He has been where Tom has been, so he understands."

She said her son has grown both in confidence and physical strength.

"When I say we're going skiing, he says, 'Yay!' So it's just really nice to have something he feels that way about," Palsson said.

'He feels like everybody else'

McNeely plays other roles at Mount Pakenham, too.

"I do the Canadian ski patrol helper, I bring down the empty sleds to the patients, then I work when we get a lot of schools. I put helmets on their heads and I do an excellent job," McNeely said.

Myrtle McNeely said the job has meant everything to her son.

"It's a real bonus for him, not just the money, but he feels like everybody else," she said.


Bárbara d'Oro is a journalist and producer originally from Brazil. Connect with her on Twitter @barbara_doro.